The Bling Ring review (Blu-ray)

Imagine for a moment you’re partying at a hot Hollywood nightclub. A hot Hollywood nightclub full of blandly beautiful teenage girls. Everyone’s bored (and boring), everyone’s drinking umbrella drinks, everyone’s chopping up lines of ching, everyone’s getting, like, sooooo totally fucked up, dancing in that sweaty slo-mo way only pretty girls in Hollywood movies ever do, taking selfies on their iPhones to record those golden Kodak moments. No one’s having any fun because fun is, like, so totally last season but everyone’s so totally hot and … waitaminute! Isn’t that Kirsten Dunst over there? OMG!

As vapid, shiny and vacuous as its teen protagonists and a spiritual, if PG-13 rated, sister to Harmony Korine’s similarly vapid, shiny, vacuous Spring Breakers, Coppola’s The Bling Ring plays like a glossy, by-the-numbers, TV movie of the week.

With a title that sounds like the kind of backdoor grooming treatment you might expect to find in an Essex beauty salon and inspired by Vanity Fair contributing editor Nancy Jo Sales’ March 2010 article The Suspects Wore Louboutins, the film recounts, whatevs-fashion, the torn-from-the-headlines (of Hello! and E!) exploits of a gang of pampered, spoiled, teen house creepers who between October 2008 and August 2009 trousered more than $3 million in jewellery and designer clobber from Hollywood’s young elite; celebutard Paris Hilton, reality TV show star The Hills’ Audrina Patridge and actresses such as Megan Fox, Lindsay Lohan and Rachel Bilson were all victims. Oh, and Orlando Bloom.

The new kid in school who’s desperate to fit in, poor little sexually and emotionally confused rich boy Marc (Broussard) falls under the spell of the beautiful, too-cool-for-school, celebrity-obsessed Rebecca (Chang) when an afternoon spent smoking a blunt at the beach, followed by some casual B&E, escalates into regular “shopping” trips; internet stalking their favourite celebs, breaking into their homes when they’re out of town and helping themselves to their swag. Pretty soon these teen Robin Hoods who steal from the rich and give to the not-quite-but-still-pretty rich, have recruited their own posse of accomplices, including aspiring models/party girls and besties Nicki (Watson) and Sam (Farmiga), and no Beverly Hills shoe collection is safe from them. But as the gang becomes ever more brazen, they’re also starting to get sloppy…

Based on a true story, The Bling Ring has a lot of pertinent questions for its audience about our obsession with the vacuous nature of our celebrity-obsessed, reality TV culture, its rampant materialisitic consumerism and the sociopathic nihilism of teenagers the world over. It comes as no surprise that it doesn’t answer any of them. In fact, it doesn’t even bother asking them. Instead, Coppola treats us to yet another pretty but superficial, shallow, self-absorbed film about pretty, superficial, shallow, self-absorbed people, mooching around to the kind of soundtrack aging hipsters think is down with the kids.

While there are some nice visual moments - the first venture into Paris Hilton’s house says more about Paris than any of her reality work (except perhaps her astonishing breakthrough in One Night In Paris), a static, silent long-shot of Marc and Rebecca ransacking Adrina Patridge’s house, Nicki’s right-on mom (Mann) dispensing morning ADHD meds to her kids with the cereal - the film is glib, has the depth of a teaspoon and crucially lacks any sense of character. She never takes us inside these kids’ heads, never gives us much of a clue about what’s motivating them. Is it greed? Envy? The soul-crushing ennui of being a teenager? Or is it something deeper? Are they trying to fill an emotional and spiritual hole? Are they trying to vicariously taste a life they’ve been denied? Are they just trying to get close to their idols? Do they just need a hug? Or are they just being teenagers? Who knows? Who cares? Obviously not Sofia, so why should we? Watching The Bling Ring is like watching a Bret Easton Ellis-penned High School Musical sequel, Less Than Zero with all the rape, snuff movies, smack shooting, sex & drug abuse and nihilism snipped out. And why would you want to watch that?

Perhaps the greatest question the film leaves us with however is: Have none of these celebrities heard of burglar alarms? Or maybe just, I dunno, LOCKING THEIR GODDAMN DOORS? And while it would be wrong to excuse the Bling Ring’s crimes, these were very middle class robberies. Nice, if a bit stalkery, spoiled little rich kids stealing from phenomenally wealthy, spoiled celebrities. No one got hurt. Sure, it can’t have been nice for Legolas to discover someone had half-inched his Rolex collection and a half million dollars worth of art but no one came home to find a steaming human turd on the coffee table and their dog drowned in the toilet. Not even Paris Hilton, and her dog is one of those annoying little yappy ones. Let’s get some perspective here.

While it’s always nice to see Mr Hollaback Girl, Gavin Rossdale, still working (playing a much prettier version of the Ring’s fence than reality) the performances for the most part are pretty one-note with only Watson making any real impression as aspiring model/celebrity Nicki. Watson is terrific, ripping into her scenes like an attack dog and delivering an astonishing, verging on unlikable, performance in a character not a million miles removed from Nicole Kidman’s in To Die For. Her scenes are the high point of the film, providing its few moments of satire and she bags all the best lines, most of them almost verbatim from her real-life counterpart Alexis Neiers’ statements to the press before, during and after the trial who probably deserves the screenwriting credit more than Coppola.

Like being trapped in the background of Watson’s Facebook selfie (that may make it sound better than it is), The Bling Ring is a tedious film with one tremendous performance.

EXTRAS ★★★½ The featurette Making The Bling Ring (22:49); the featurette Behind The Real Bling Ring (23:45); the featurette Scene Of The Crime With Paris Hilton (10:36); a short interview with director Coppola (3:51); and the theatrical trailer.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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