Sofia Coppola, the poet laureate of cinematic ennui, is back with a tale so ridiculously vapid, it could only be based on a true story. It also happens to be fascinating and rather entertaining. The Bling Ring is about a group of teens living in Los Angeles and steal from the young rich and famous. And in the case of Paris Hilton, not only do they rob her multiple times (she owns so much stuff she didn’t even notice anything had been stolen) but they invite friends over to make use of her nightclub room and stripper pole (the fact that Miss Hilton actually granted the filmmakers permission to use her actual house to recreate the robberies is either a testament to her sense of humor about herself or the final piece of evidence demonstrating the fact that she truly has no shame.)
Coppola doesn’t treat this true story as some sort of morality tale or sordid exploitation, she just trains her languidly expressive camera on her subjects (the co-cinematographer was the late Harris Savides, one of cinema’s truly great artists of the last twenty years) and shows them doing what they do best, consuming. They aren’t using the 3 million dollars in stuff they stole for any personal financial gain (though one scene shows a couple of the kids trying to pawn some stolen Rolexes to some creep in a club played by Gavin Rossdale of Bush. He doesn’t have much to do in his cameo, but the dude’s got presence…), they just like having expensive stuff.
And that’s the movie, kids getting more stuff. They rob, then they post on Facebook. When they break into the houses, there’s no sense of panic (they spend a lot of time scanning celebrity-obsessed web sites, so they know when their mark is out-of-town.) They treat the robberies like a trip to the mall. And yes, it gets a little redundant after while, but never boring.
But the thing is, the more fancy stuff they steal, the more popular they become amongst their peers; they’re pretty up front about the fact they’re robbing famous people. And because they’re wearing all this fancy stuff, they get access to all the exclusive nightclubs because if they have fancy stuff, they must be fancy people and, therefore, worthy people.
Old people (like myself) like to look around and say that kids these days are so much worse than we were. And maybe they are, but that’s only because they have so much more access to information than we old folk had back in the day. If we had the internet… and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr and Vine and on and on, who’s to say we wouldn’t be as self-obsessed as they are?
Who’s to say we already aren’t? Three of the members of this motley crew are home-schooled by a mom (a wonderfully wishy-washy Leslie Mann) who teaches her kids based on the writings of Rhonda Byrne in her mega best-selling book, The Secret. When one of her kids, after getting caught on a security camera stealing, is being interviewed by a writer from Vanity Fair magazine, she’s just as star struck as the kid and tries in vain to make herself part of the interview. Look at what these kids had to grow up with! They never had a chance.
Self absorption, while a popular and alluring topic to write about, is a tricky subject to make interesting. Back in the mid 1980’s, a generation of “Great Young Authors” like Jay McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City) and Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero) presented kids just like those in The Bling Ring. But there was a real darkness in those books; we were witnessing the young, amoral children of privilege indulge themselves to death.
There is no sense of gloom and doom in The Bling Ring. If these kids are on a path to self-destruction, Coppola doesn’t really seem to care; she’s more aesthete than moralist. And the kids she’s portraying really don’t care either. They only care about how they look in their new, stolen stuff. The Bling Ring is about the idolization of self, and not just among the kids, but their parents, and the celebrities from whom they’re stealing. Perhaps only Sofia Coppola could have made a movie so entertaining about people who spend all their time looking at themselves.