Review: The Bling Ring (2013)

The Bling Ring is a fascinating look at the worship of celebrity in our modern world. Following the so-called Bling Ring or Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch, a group of privileged, fashion-obsessed high school students who break into celebrities’ houses and rid them of their extravagant luxury clothing, The Bling Ring is equally alarming and hilarious.

Sofia Coppola takes a lot of flak for making films focused on characters of privilege and the superficiality of upper class life. People complain that her narrow focus merely reflects her own privileged lifestyle and mindset. I will even admit that I have been a little bored with her films and themes at times. Lost in Translation remains great, but Marie Antoinette seems little more than a costume party scored to some cool New Wave music.

However, anyone who has ever glanced at the headlines of a paparazzi rag or listened to a preposterous celebrity interview on Entertainment Tonight or during Fashion Week will understand how The Bling Ring's interest in being more than just another commentary on the world Coppola grew up in. It doesn’t take much to notice the scary similarities between the celebrity victims and these young burglars. The core trio of Rebecca, Marc, and Nicki (played by Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, and Emma Watson, respectively) almost seem to be auditioning for the type of celebrity popularized by their victims, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan: a fame based off solely money, excess, and scandal.

Like Hilton and Lohan, Rebecca, Marc, and Nicki are emotionally vacant and preposterously oblivious to their own privilege. Their discussions focus almost solely on what outfit to wear that evening when they go out and what celebrity scandals are currently happening. They use the money they steal from celebrities to go hang out in the bars those very celebrities frequent. They're not trying to steal celebrities' money, they're trying to steal their lifestyle. When Rebecca meets Marc, she asks him his future plans. He simply responds, living "The Lifestyle." What this lifestyle calls for is caring for nothing more than for how the surrounding world perceives you, both your immediate social group and the celebrity-obsessed media that comments upon your social circles.

The Bling Ring also further confirms my fears that fashion and celebrity is based entirely off superficiality. If you fear the film’s commentary is diluted by the narrowness of its focus, I feel my theatre-going experience directly contradicts your fear. Thinking that the majority of the audience would take The Bling Ring as the work of satire and anthropological observation that it is, I expected most of the audience to laugh along with me at the characters. Instead, I was met with an audience that seemed driven by the same sort of lust for luxury that drives Rebecca and Marc to break into celebrities’ homes.

When the members of the Bling Ring break into Paris Hilton’s house and come across her walk-in shoe closet, members of the audience gasped over the hundreds of shiny shoes. Most of the audience was women, but their orgiastic reactions were similar to the reactions of young bros to the metallic thrashings in a Transformers film. I was horrified that this satire was instead whetting the appetites of these gluttonous fashion vultures.

This probably has to do with how the satire of The Bling Ring is buried within superficial pleasures. In fact, The Bling Ring is such a satire of modern American desire and the American Dream that I feel I should make an update to my essay comparing Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. The Bling Ring and those other two 2013 films share a preoccupation with the danger of our media heroes and the American notion of success. They’re also sly commentaries that are easily mistaken as glorifications by the very audiences they subvert.

Coppola may not be as brash as Bay or Korine, but like them she has accomplished one of the year’s major acts of cinematic subversion. The protagonists of The Bling Ring are cartoonish caricatures. What makes this fact horrifying is that they’re also real people. The Bling Ring shows us that we’re living in a world where caricature is prized over character and money over substance. Our modern world is a dark place to live in.

7 out of 10

The Bling Ring (2013, USA)

Written and directed by Sofia Coppola; based off the Vanity Fair article "The Suspects Wore Louboutins" by Nancy Jo Sales; starring Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Georgia Rock, and Leslie Mann.