The credits were still rolling when three teen girls spotted actor IsraelBroussard at the advance screening of The Bling Ring. Before the lights came up, they dashed out of their seats to get a picture with the up-and-coming actor. Suddenly, the four of them had their arms around each other and were smiling like old friends as a grandmother snapped the picture that was undoubtedly on Facebook and Instagram moments later. Broussard was there to answer questions about the movie in which he stars along with Emma Watson, Leslie Mann and fellow newbie Katie Chang. After witnessing this scene, the question on my mind was, “Did these girls just see the same movie I did?”
The Bling Ring, directed by Sofia Coppola, is a fictional account of the Burglar Bunch, a group of teens who broke into the houses of celebrities and stole their designer goods between 2008 and 2009. Coppola’s movie is meant to portray a youth culture that is grossly obsessed with celebrity and materialism.
However, like other Sofia Coppola movies such as Marie Antoinette and Somewhere, the characters of The BlingRing fail to ever move past their superficial values or even repent for their crimes. The group of sticky-fingered teens includes Rebecca (Chang), Marc (Broussard) and Nicki (Watson), and the movie spends a good chunk of its 90-minute run letting viewers watch them steal really, really expensive stuff. However, what perhaps gives the movie relevance in modern culture is the obsession with media and celebrity: The group isn’t out to get Hermes handbags. They’re out to get Paris Hilton’s Hermes handbags.
One of the film’s strengths is exposing the lavishness that fame and fortune allow. Sure, this is a movie about teenagers robbing people, but it’s also a critical look at the victims, like Paris Hilton, who have so much they don’t even notice when they’ve been robbed.
Coppola is notoriously reluctant to pass judgment on her characters and her approach to The BlingRing is no different. The movie was shot with a detached point of view, similarly to a documentary. The use of hand-held cameras, computer screens and security tapes adds to the film’s tone of simply relating an event rather than drawing a moral conclusion. Since Coppola refuses to condemn or condone her characters, she almost makes their situation envious: They get to steal, party and play with beautiful things, while those of us who follow the rules do not.
In an interview after the film, Broussard commented that Coppola did not want to glamorize what the group did. Nevertheless, the characters have a complete lack of moral qualms during their escapades. As they prance around with free designer goods, it’s hard for viewers not to be drawn into their unscrupulous and decadent game of dress-up.
This is where Coppola’s message falls short: Her movie romanticizes celebrities’ luxury while pardoning the group’s crimes. By refusing to incriminate the teens’ actions, Coppola almost makes thievery an acceptable means to glamor.
While Coppola’s film lacks power, it’s certainly an accurate portrayal of 21st-century culture — one that not only breaks the rules, but flaunts it on social media. Like Paris Hilton, who decorates her house with pillows emblazoned with her likeness, the members of the Bling Ring are obsessed with their own self-images.
Essentially, the film forces viewers to ask themselves how much they are willing to pay for designer goods, a chance at fame and an opportunity to feel close to the strangers we call celebrities. TheBling Ring shows when it comes to fame and materialism, the victims and perpetrators are often one and the same.