It’s a pity that Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers came out in the same year: it’s difficult not to compare the two, and the comparison does The Bling Ring no favors. Based on actual events, the film follows a group of teenagers in their repeated robberies of the homes of many Hollywood stars, including Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Audrina Patridge. Like Korine’s film, The Bling Ring is a beautifully shot account of adolescent recklessness, with a palate of candy pinks and neon yellows — but uneven performances and a flat storyline leave it ultimately lacking in resonance.
Marc Hall (Israel Broussard) serves as our lens character, arriving as a new student at Indian Hills High School. After being gawked at and harassed (inexplicably — is this really what high school is like?) by his fellow students, he meets Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang), and they quickly become friends. It is Rebecca that encourages Marc to join her in stealing from unlocked cars, friends’ homes, and eventually the homes of celebrities. Rebecca is obsessed with the celebrity lifestyle. She tells Marc that she plans to go to the Fashion Institute of Design — “it’s where all the Hills girls went.” There are a couple truly gorgeous shots of her staring into the mirror as she applies Paris Hilton’s lipstick or Lindsay Lohan’s perfume, entranced by her own reflection.
Marc is likable from the moment he opens his mouth. He’s reminiscent of so many boys you knew in high school — self-conscious, a little naïve, good-natured and earnest, but troubled. It’s completely believable that he would get pulled into Rebecca’s kleptomania, motivated by loneliness and a desire to be glamorous or special. Chang’s performance, on the other hand, is as flat as Broussard’s is nuanced. Her appeal lies exclusively in her physical beauty; otherwise she is cool, her lines stilted, her voice monotone. Rebecca is supposed to be the mastermind behind these burglaries — the ringleader — and yet she has no charisma whatsoever.
Rebecca and Marc are soon joined by some of Rebecca’s friends: Chloe (Claire Julien), Nicki (Emma Watson), and Sam (Taissa Farmiga). Watson gives a particularly fine performance as Nicki: skinny, strung-out, and narcissistic, telling the press that she “might want to lead a country someday, for all I know.” The five of them fall into the habit of regularly stealing from celebrities, in scenes that are breathtaking in their decadence but tediously formulaic, with a lot of giggling, shrieking, and preening until Marc says, “Guys, we gotta get out of here” and they scamper away.
What this film does most effectively is take a snapshot of the absurdity of Hollywood life. Sam and Nicki are home-schooled by Nicki’s mother (Leslie Mann) in the religious-science philosophy of the Agape Church, an education that involves popping Adderalls and making inspiration boards about Angelina Jolie. All five of the teenagers are constantly partying, comparing clothes, dropping names, checking their phones. The teenagers’ materialism is striking, and so is the materialism of the robbed celebrities (Marc, Rebecca, & co. are able to rob Paris Hilton five times before she notices that anything is missing).
But Coppola hints that this shallowness and materialism is more widespread than we think. Marc receives 800 Facebook friend requests after his arrest, suggesting to him that “America has a sick fascination with a Bonnie and Clyde type of thing.” How much can we remove ourselves from these teenagers’ outlandish actions? Aren’t we all similarly materialistic and shallow, even just by virtue of watching this film and indulging in a spectacle of decadent materialism?
These ideas are never fully fleshed out. Coppola focuses instead on the robbery scenes, which quickly grow old, while the more interesting aspects of the story — the characters and their backgrounds, the presence of social media in their crimes, the general materialism of the millennial generation — we merely get glimpses of. Perhaps the reason The Bling Ring is so disappointing is that it’s so close to being a fabulous movie. Unfortunately, it ends up being more like a fabulous fashion show.