I could think of no one better suited to direct a film about affluent, glamor-obsessed, Los Angeles teens than Sofia Coppola. Her heightened focus on aesthetics over conventional character development, in films like Marie Antoinette and adaptation The Virgin Suicides, is perfectly geared towards the similarly superficial Bling Ring members. The girls’ Uggs, giant sunglasses and even the A-List theft victims who’ve since faded into obscurity, capture Los Angeles in 2008 so well the film could be seen as a period piece of the not-so-distant past. The focus is not so much on the characters, but rather on a cultural landscape where The Hills’ Audrina Patridge was relevant and any song off Kanye West’s Dark Twisted Fantasy is perfect for wealthy teens to blast in their cars.
The movie starts off with quietly depressed new kid, Marc Hall (Israel Broussard), getting sent to Indian Hills High School – apparently the designated place for the troubled youths of Calabasas. He almost immediately gets sucked into future ringleader, Rebecca Ahn’s (Katie Chang) toxic group of friends. They’re all wealthy: Marc’s dad manages a studio’s foreign film distribution for example and Rebecca traipses around in harem pants and high heeled boots at 15, but they still exist on the periphery of cool. Catching a Kirsten Dunst sighting at the club is what truly allows these kids to transcend high school cool for Hollywood cool by proxy. That explains why Marc, Rebecca, Chloe Trainer (Claire Julien) and adopted sisters Nicki Moore (Emma Watson) and Sam Moore (Taissa Farmiga) appear to spend 75-90% of their time partying or preparing their minds and bodies to party.
In a series of poorly integrated interviews, Marc offers a dab of awareness as to the moral implications of their lifestyle, but the desire to fit in quickly silences him. He idolizes Rebecca, who herself idolizes the celebrities whose homes they break into. When at a third of the way through the film Chloe Trainer gets in a drunk driving accident and then the next day brags, “my level was off the charts. It was crazy,” we see in this world a DUI is a badge of honor. Their actions are reprehensible, yet we can all identify with lusting for popularity in high school and for rich, LA teens the stakes seem to be much higher.
The main characters are constantly searching for ways to reach the next high. After snorting coke with twentysomething men has become pedestrian, it makes sense that Rebecca encourages Marc to break into sports cars in search of money for a Rodeo Drive shopping spree. The jump from breaking into sports cars to breaking into million dollar homes happens without a clear logical motivation, but teenage decisions are notoriously lacking in logical motivation. When Rebecca shows off a Paris Hilton bracelet and Marc reveals they “walked right in. It was so fucking chill,” it becomes clear that this will be their new high.
Not even halfway through the film when all the friends have joined Rebecca on her conquest of stars’ homes, Coppola throws in a whopper of a metaphor. At another star’s house, Sam finds a loaded gun and plays with it, pointing it at her friends and spinning it around. Without an ounce of self awareness, Sam calls attention to the massive loaded gun they’re all playing with: repeatedly breaking into wealthy celebrities’ homes and then posting about it on Facebook. Beautifully shot by the late Harris Savides, from hundreds of feet away we watch the Bling Ring members scurry around Audrina Patridge’s home like dolls unknowingly becoming the spectacles they always wanted to be.
We get a few minutes at the end of the kids being taken to court and handed out punishments, but the severity gets minimized with the levity of Emma Watson’s spot-on Nicki still focused on finding appropriate clothes to wear to court. Really the best part of the last third of the film was the different characters all getting found out by the police because it provides a counterweight to the series of highs that characterized this film. All of these teens were just searching for their next high, going farther and farther to get the feeling back. The characters are pretty depthless and so are the specifics of the plot, but each visually intense scene scored to fun, bass-heavy beats compels you on because we get a glimpse into these kids’ lives – and it’s kind of exhilarating.