The Bling Ring
by George Sax
Guilty of breaking and envying
The Bling Ring
Just before eighteen-year-old Alexis Neiers was arraigned in November 2009 on one count of burglarizing film star Orlando Bloom’s Hollywood Hills home, she sat on a bench outside the LA courtroom having her makeup touched up by a woman from E! TV. Alexis was to have been the star of a reality TV show about Hollywood-scene club kids, and it was still being shot when Alexis and several of her friends were arrested, and charged with operating a popularly-dubbed “Bling Ring” that broke into the homes of media celebrities, making off with an officially estimated over-$3 million in loot. (The take from Bloom’s alone was said to be about $500,000.)
Scouting and then breaking into the surprisingly unprotected houses of Paris Hilton, Rachel Belson, Audrina Partridge, Lindsay Lohan, Brian Austin Green, and possibly others, the young gang took designer garments, jewelry, art, handbags, cash, and at least one handgun. They seem to have had a covetously entitled attitude toward the deluxe goods and accouterments of these largely low-wattage luminaries. (On their list of victims, only Bloom’s name was associated with actual and unusual achievement.)
The courthouse makeup moment isn’t in Sofia Coppola’s movie about the Bling Ring kids’ predatory exploits, although it does seem strikingly redolent of the swirling, image-engrossed milieu they inhabited psychically and socially. It’s the kind of thing you really can’t make up, not because it’s beyond your imaginative powers, but because American pop culture has done it for you. Perhaps Coppola thought the incident was too laden with symbolism. It is in Nancy Jo Sales’ 2010 Vanity Fair article, “The Suspects wore Louboutins,” which Coppola’s script relied on to a great extent. The Bling Ring takes a cooly observant approach to the material, one not much different, superficially, from her reticent, laid-back manner in such efforts as Lost in Translation and her last release, Somewhere. But while those films depicted softly alienated, if materially privileged individuals suffering from a sense of personal drift, this movie is more briskly plotted, and has a mildly engaged undertone.
Of course, that’s only in comparison. The Bling Ring is unlikely to be mistaken for a docudrama morality play, or engagé art. Coppola keeps her customary distance, even if there’s less show of the mannered detachment evident in her other movies. Here and there, one may perceive a note of amusement, and of wry condescension toward her acquisitive young amoralists. Coppola claims she didn’t take sides, but an apparent sense of the outrageousness of her characters’ attitudes and adventures has crept into her picture.
The Ring kids appear under different names, and somewhat altered identities, but the movie follows Sales’ article fairly closely. Neiers is now Nicki (Emma Watson) and the gang’s real-life organizer Rachel Lee has become Rebecca (Katie Chang). The Bling Ring is mostly told from the viewpoint of Marc (Israel Broussard), who stands in for Nick Prugo. (He and Neiers served as “consultants” on the film.)
When Marc, a lonely, plump-cheeked kid anxious about his “not A-list” appearance meets Rebecca in a San Fernando Valley high school, he’s a goner. The probably incipiently gay youth—in one of her best choices, Coppola doesn’t brightline this—is soon in thrall to the unnaturally self-assured, recklessly audacious Rebecca, who lures him into his first felony by getting him to break into the home of a friend of his away on vacation, and then drives off the family’s car with Marc beside her. Soon, he finds himself in the ostentatiously tacky crib of Paris Hilton (not a set but the real thing).
None of the five principals the movie concentrates on is burdened with the baggage of a nagging conscience, but Rebecca is almost a sui generis sociopath, while Nicki is a ridiculously grandiose and self-serving narcissist. The scene in which she grants an interview to a journalist, while trying to keep her sanctimoniously spiritual mother from elbowing her way into the scene, is a little gem of satire. Watson’s performance may veer unnecessarily into parody, but this also signals that Coppola’s professed neutrality isn’t consistent.
The Bling Ring is a kind of comedy, and it has its own attitude, the director’s protests notwithstanding. And her public attempts to disassociate herself from the vacuously vulgar materialism of both the gang members and some of their burglary targets would be more consistent if she herself hadn’t modeled and “designed” some of the high-end fashion products in luxury markets.
Watch the trailer for The Bling Ring
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