From their trailers alone, The Bling Ring as well as Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers look more like Miley Cyrus music videos than they do feature films. No doubt the sight of Emma Watson doing a line of cocaine, or that of her Californian beach-babe friend rapping along to Rick Ross, makes you cringe beyond measure, but I think that was the exact point director Sofia Coppola was trying to make. Teenagers the world over have become obsessed with the attractive cast of this flick (with its “trendy” Twitter tag #TheBlingRing), but superficial this film is not.
Without trying to sound like a haughty parent, the youth of today are so neurotically obsessed with themselves, their position in society, in their friendship group and in popular culture that they lose all sight of how they might appear to someone who is outside that sphere, namely adults, or, in this case, the viewer. So despite appearances, The Bling Ring is for my money not just another teen movie, but an accurate representation of the narcissism that surrounds almost every First World teenager today: the Millennials.
What is the most permeating feature of this film is that it’s based on real events. Sofia Coppola, the brain behind cult films such as The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation, based her newest production on a group of affluent Californian teenagers who began burgling the houses of A-list celebrities in 2008. The film follows Marc (Israel Broussard) the new kid at ‘drop-out school’ who seeks acceptance from Rebecca (Katie Chang), a troubled daughter of divorced parents who gets her kicks from stealing from her rich neighbours. The duo soon finds out that it’s just as easy, and in fact way more impressive, to break into the mansions of Hollywood stars. Here they are joined by their friends Chloe (Claire Julien), Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga).
Much of the film then revolves around these teens, mostly Broussard and Chang, tracking the movements of celebrities, and breaking into their houses when they are out of town. There are endless clips of the group rifling through Paris Hilton’s wardrobe (which is filmed in the socialite’s real home; Hilton admitted to crying upon watching the film at Cannes Film Festival) or Miranda Kerr’s underwear drawer.
Watching the bandits bask in their steals is compulsive viewing. Coppola’s constant shots of the teens taking selfies whilst at nightclubs are so realistic that you come to realise that is not a niche group of privileged Californians, but just a bunch of everyday, faceless teenagers seeking attention and popularity from their peers.
The group eventually get caught and punished for their actions (don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler: we’re told this at the beginning of the film). Yet these teenagers are so wrapped up in the world of Hollywood that it barely takes a court case to shake them out of their habits; Broussard admits to accepting 800 Facebook friend requests from his newly acquired fans.
The acting sometimes leaves a lot to be desired (they were so busy perfecting Watson’s American accent that no one seemed to tell her how to convincingly hold a cigarette) but you can, just about, forgive the actors for this.
So what do we gauge from the film? It’s hard to tell; only that Coppola plainly grasps the evolving crazes of today’s teenagers and documents them well through this criminal gang. Basically, after watching The Bling Ring, I was actually happy that I had cracked my phone screen and was thus unable to take a selfie.