The film is based on the true story of a group of very loathsome teenagers who broke into and stole clothes, money and jewelry from the homes of famous-in-2008 Hollywood luminaries like Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge and Orlando Bloom. Due to such amateur mistakes as flaunting the stolen goods in public, stealing from the same houses multiple times, and bragging about the thefts to everyone they meet, the ring was soon caught, with several of them doing jail time.
Coppola’s film tells the story in a relatively straightforward manner, and that’s ultimately the problem. She doesn’t seem to have a handle on the material, and doesn’t really try to go for humor, suspense or anything else. The movie just sort of sits there.
“The Bling Ring” has the misfortunate of coming out just a few months after “Spring Breakers,” which told a similar (albeit fictional) story about hot young girls behaving criminally, but found a much more interesting way to tell it, both thematically and aesthetically. Another movie, Nick Cassevetes’ underappreciated “Alpha Dog” from 2006, also did a much better job with a fact-based kids-doing-bad-things tale.
There was a one-season reality show on E! called Pretty Wild, which followed the family of Alexis Neiers, one of the suspects, which also approached the material in a much more compelling way than Coppola does. The movie also omits the reality show, Neiers’ self-professed hardcore drug addiction, and this moment.
With the exception of the Neiers character (Emma Watson, the best thing about the movie by far) and Marc (Israel Broussard), a shy, implicitly gay teenager who falls in with the gang, most of the characters just don’t register. All of the names have been changed, which is weird since all of these people’s names are long in the public domain.
If nothing else the film functions as something of a flashback to that unfortunate time when Paris HIlton was on TV just about every day. (I mean come on, at least Kim Kardashian has a little bit of a personality.) Hilton, who makes a cameo here, still doesn’t come off too well. Her house is decorated so garishly that it makes Liberace’s place in “Behind the Candelabra” look almost subdued by comparison- and the world now knows that Paris didn’t think to invest in additional security after the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth time that her home was robbed.
The film has a version of Google in which all famous people’s home addresses are listed and easy to find at the touch of a button, though for some reason only Marc knows how to do it. Then again, Marc’s character has a Facebook page that looks exactly like a Facebook page, except in place of the Facebook logo, in the same font, it just says “Marc.” I think that was what Zuckerberg originally wanted to do.
It also must be said again that Sofia Coppola remains as obsessed with leeringly photographing young women, in various states of undress, as any male filmmaker working today, and yes that includes Harmony Korine. At least Korine didn’t film his nubile young actresses stealing clothes, so they could change into different outfits 15 different times over the course of the movie.
I love “Lost in Translation” and I probably love “The Virgin Suicides” even more. But Sofia Coppola is in a position where she needs to make a different kind of movie, and soon.