Sofia Coppola's fascination with the young and over-privileged reaches a logical plateau with The Bling Ring, a hyperaware consideration of celebrity intrigue and idolization. Based on the semi-recent wave of burglaries perpetrated by a group of high school kids on the unsuspecting gossip-rag regulars residing in the Hollywood Hills, the film depicts, with an alternately implicating and critical eye, the rise and fall of adolescent naïveté and entitlement. It's a subject that Coppola has spent much of her career dramatizing across various milieus, from the suburban daydreams of The Virgin Suicides to the ornate, 18th-century re-imaginings of Marie Antoinette to the Los Angeles summertime sprawl of Somewhere. She's remained in the City of Angels for her latest, but this is anything but a tale of wayward cherubs. Fueled by the very lifestyle they're nonchalantly pillaging, this band of small-time crooks have learned that actions rarely have consequences, and spend the entire film putting this theory, propagated and sustained by the media, to the fullest possible test.
Starring Katie Chang and Israel Broussard as Rebecca and Marc, two idle teens with ample spare time and an eye for fashion, but bereft of the resources to actually adopt such costly interests, The Bling Ring moves fleetly, gathering momentum as this pair of unassumingly ambitious thieves go from swiping purses from unlocked cars to breaking into million-dollar mansions within the span of a few days. Once they've successfully outlined the ease with which they can access such presumably secure homes (all it apparently took was a Google search and a couple of gossip websites), Rebecca and Marc bring three equally greedy friends in their mounting cabal: Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga), two friends turned adopted sisters, and Chloe (Claire Julien), a smart-mouthed blonde who spends more time talking on her cell phone than with her parents. (The real-life Bling Ring is responsible for having stolen over three million in cash and clothing.)
Coppola's ear for contemporary adolescent dialogue and eye for picaresque West Coast locales coalesce here into what's certainly her most accessible and quite possibly her most beautiful work yet; the film was shot by the late Harris Savides (with additional work by Christopher Blauvelt), and its diamond studded and gold-accented interiors speak accurately to the film's glitzy title. Her aesthetic, particularly after the austere, almost static procession of Somewhere, is restless and eye-popping, mirroring the adopted lifestyle of the five Bling Ringers as they rip off and assume the glamorous looks of their victims, who in real life included Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, and Audrina Patridge. If she's set aside, however briefly, the patient, observational tact of her prior work, it's not at the expense of style, which the film absolutely bathes in. Frankly, it's a breath of fresh air for an artist seemingly content in her serene stylistic surroundings.
But like all stories of criminal activity and monetary gain, pride cometh before the fall, and this quasi-gang ends up splintering as quick as it came into being. The problem when commenting on such selfish, shallow human beings and the arc they inevitably follow is the instinct on behalf of the artist to both romanticize and implicate their characters. Coppola doesn't totally sidestep this tendency, though the involvement she offers the audience seems intentional. The film's characters talk in both voiceover and interview segments throughout, commenting on their crime spree in the wake of their sentencing. Some are regretful, others in denial—another yet utilizes the platform to launch her own celebrity campaign. The Bling Ring can't couch its message in subtly since there's nothing subtle about the world it depicts—and that's both a hindrance to its impact and an aid to its entertainment value. In this sense it's both of a piece and something completely new for Coppola, who's thematic purview may be narrow, but one she's continually proven to have reach far exceeding that of the laconic characters she depicts. [Slant]