‘The Bling Ring’ movie review: Emma Watson in Sofia Coppola’s Gucci Gang tale

A fascinating true crime story detailed through director Sofia Coppola’s trademark distant, chilly-cool eye, The Bling Ring fails on two counts: less interested in the crimes than the characters that commit them, it never does justice to the real story it purports to describe, and hamstrung by that connection to real events (which doesn’t exactly pay off in a dramatically satisfying way), it never lives up to the director’s best work, which includes The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, and the underrated Somewhere

Somewhere was also set in present-day L.A., with Stephen Dorff as an actor presumably based on a real celebrity, and Lost in Translation was similarly inspired by people involved with the director. The Bling Ring goes a step further and names names, counting Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Audrina Patridge, and Rachel Bilson among the celebrities involved with the story.

But they aren’t the focus. Instead, the film describes the exploits of a group of L.A. teens who looked up the addresses of local celebrities using Google maps, found out via media websites when they were away, walked into their homes through unlocked doors (or found keys under mats), and swiped a (relatively) small amount of designer goods, cash, and other items. 

They returned to Paris Hilton’s home eight times over the course of a number of months before the socialite realized something was amiss and contacted police. Other celebs were also hit on multiple occasions.

This is a fascinating story, not least of all because of the particular people involved: due to the portrayal of Hilton, Lohan, Fox, et al., in the media, none of them exactly hold our sympathies to begin with; leaving their homes unlocked, with no security, does little to win us over. The only ‘victim’ here who we may feel remotely sorry for is Orlando Bloom, who had a collection of valuable Rolexes swiped by the Bling Ring.

There are a lot of ways to present this story, from poor celebs violated by the media and now their own fans, to Robin Hood heroics, but Coppola does it with one broad L.A. brush stroke. There are no victims or heroes here: they’re all vapid, materialistic, mindless idiots who deserve each other. Hilton and her thieves go to the same nightclub; Lohan will serve time with the woman accused of robbing her. 

A pointed insight, but unfortunately, this does little to help us feel for the characters. The purported leads are Marc (Israel Broussard), the (presumably) homosexual new kid in town, and Rebecca (Katie Chang), the ‘ringleader’ of the group who indoctrinates Marc into her criminal ways. But these characters are thinly sketched, and their relationship doesn’t pay off as intended. Other Bling Ring members include Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, and Georgia Rock. 

These characters reminded me of similar teenage girls in Harmony Korine’s subversive Spring Breakers; but where that film had a dynamite satiric bite, The Bling Ring is sorely lacking. Coppola is careful not to judge her characters; a noble method, perhaps, but one that causes the film to lose any sense of perspective.

But there is one character whose plight just about saves the film: Harry Potter’s Emma Watson plays Nicki, a clueless young girl home-schooled (and brainwashed) along with her two sisters by their mother (Leslie Mann)… who has brought them up according to the teachings of The Secret. This is the kind of so-out-there-it-must-be-true kind of stuff that finally gets a reaction from us.

Not only that, but Watson is excellent as the vacuous yet…radiant Nicki, surrounded by reporters outside of the courthouse, giving interviews with Vanity Fair, carefully monitoring each word that comes out of her mouth as she exploits the situation in order to turn into one of these vapid celebrities right before our eyes. The circle is now complete.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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