Based on real events and inspired by an article in Vanity Fair, Sofia Coppola’s latest directorial turn concerns itself with those that emulate the kind of characters she has previously devoted whole films to; Dorff’s Johnny Marco in Somewhere, Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette and to a lesser extent Bill Murray’s Bob Harris in Lost in Translation. A fascination with celebrity is something that clearly interests Coppola but her portraits have had little to say in most cases, most notably in the vacuous Somewhere.
So, in focusing instead on the effect that these kinds of lifestyles have on those that covet them and hang on their every designer outfit choice Coppola has found fresh new ground and gone some way to living up to the promise of her first two films. Unfortunately only some way though.
The Bling Ring’s focus is five friends, nicknamed the ‘Bling Ring’ by the media, who rob the wealthy celebrities that they idolise by sneaking in through open doors or windows, or in Paris Hilton’s case a key that she so helpfully leaves under her doormat. Once inside they get a rush from trying on the clothes and accessories of celebrities such as Audrina Patridge, Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan and even go so far as to spend time partying in Hilton’s “nightclub room”.
The obsessed teens attempt to inhabit the spaces and adopt iconography all in order to be one with those that they idolise, but they begin very much as empty vessels and no amount of shoes or handbags will ultimately change this. And herein lies The Bling Ring’s greatest issue. As a study in the vacuousness of celebrities and celebrity culture it is near paper thin and without any strong or interesting characters it is hard to separate the experience of watching The Bling Ring from the past time that many, including those in ‘The Bling Ring’, have of scrolling aimlessly through TMZ and so on.
Without some far more biting satire than Coppola gets anywhere near to here, or anything at all more interesting to say about this world than it’s pretty ridiculous and empty, it’s hard to understand who this film will really connect with. If you hate the celebrity obsessions that seem to so often dominate popular culture you will probably raise a wry smile occasionally in The Bling Ring but mostly just find it to be filled with obvious observations and little insight. For those who are deep in that culture it will probably wash over them, allowing them to enjoy the thrill of the cameos and peeks inside Hilton’s actual house, without any of the consequences that the real life ‘Bling Ring’ had to deal with.
The young cast impress greatly at times and their delivery of some of the more amusing lines with a pout and a “like totally” help make The Bling Ring something of an enjoyable experience, despite it’s flimsiness. Leslie Mann also threatens to steal the entire film with a handful wickedly funny scenes. The mother of Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga), Mann’s character is utterly obsessed with The Secret, an obnoxious and entirely real self-help phenomenon that concerns itself with how “like attracts like”, and never misses an opportunity to bring it up, always in the most amusing way. The Secret and its link to getting rich through positive thinking is a pretty easy target though and like much of the film its treatment by Coppola is mostly just something that mildly entertains rather than enlightens.