Whilst it is an oft used adage, it is a reality that truth, sometimes, is stranger than fiction. Such is the case in the story told by Sofia Coppola in her latest film The Bling Ring, which follows the exploits of a group Los Angeles teenagers who break into the homes of Hollywood celebrities and pilfer more than $3 million in jewellery, cash and clothing. It is a combination of boredom, their obsession with celebrity culture and a complete lack of parental guidance and supervision that propels the group through a series of increasingly brazen robberies. The film tackles many issues surrounding celebrity culture, privacy and fandom, with Coppola crafting a somewhat restrained examination of a story that could lend itself to a more sensationalist telling in the hands of less subtle filmmaker.
Based on a Vanity Fair article, The Bling Ring is very much a movie of its time as the events of the film could not have happened – certainly not with such ridiculous ease – as recently as 10 years ago. The saturation of social media and the ever increasing obsession with the movements and whereabouts of Hollywood celebrities (why do we care who is holidaying where?) in magazines and online media made it easy for this group of teens to identity suitable targets for their escapades. I am loathe to use the term ‘break-in’ given that so many of the celebrity victims made it easy by leaving doors unlocked or, in the case of Paris Hilton, leaving the key under the door mat. Put simply, these youngsters wanted to live vicariously through their idols and, completely devoid of any moral qualms about their course of action, set about accumulating the artefacts of their obsession.
Newcomers Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Clair Julien, Taissa Farmiga and Georgia Rock are joined by Harry Potter starlet Emma Watson as the eponymous Bling Ring whose actions, ironically enough, ultimately bring them the media spotlight and celebrity they so desperately desire. Rebecca (Chang) is ostensibly the leader of the group, coercing Marc (Broussard) into joining her for their initial nocturnal forays, with the others quickly becoming involved. Whilst Marc, the newcomer at school desperate to make a connection, initially accompanies Katie only because of his desire to cement their friendship and does seem to be the only one aware, or concerned about, the risks inherent in what they are doing, his protests start to wane as the cache of stolen goods stored under his bed grows. In a culture where we see bad behaviour constantly being rewarded and celebrated in the media and celebrities relentlessly being paraded as objects worthy of hero worship, it is little wonder that this group felt little fear of any serious consequences for their actions – a confidence that was subsequently justified by the leniency of their sentences and the offers of reality television programs and other opportunities to experience the ‘fame’ they so desired.
Complicit in these wrongdoings are the feckless parents whose utter lack of interest in their children and/or how they spend their time is perhaps the biggest crime of all. When they were not robbing the social elite, the group of high schoolers would spend their evenings in bars and nightclubs celebrity spotting, their parents seemingly oblivious to it all. If the moronic Laurie (Leslie Mann) is any indication, it is little wonder the antics of the group went undetected for so long. Mother of Nicki (Watson) and Emily (Rock) and guardian of their friend Sam (Farmiga), Laurie is completely devoid of any competence as a parent and utterly clueless in her efforts at home schooling the girls. In fact, she is an affront to parents and teachers everywhere.
Some might say that Coppola has taken a somewhat soft approach in her depiction of the group, but this is because it is actually hard to sympathise with the victims. After all, Hilton has so much stuff that she didn’t even realise what was missing and then made her house available for filming. Ultimately though, putting the debate about whether a movie further publicising the exploits of this group should have been made in the first place to one side, the young actors do a great job in portraying the collective vacuousness and vanity of their characters and Coppola has crafted a polished film that examines the whole nature of 21st century celebrity culture.