A true crime story about wannabe celebrity criminals
By T. T. Stern-Enzi
Photo: Emma Watson and friends blur the line betwen celebrity and criminal in “The Bling Ring”; Rating: R Grade: B+
So, this is what has become of the Bonnie & Clyde mythos, the ballsy outlaw bandits with bullets to spare and a knack for creating – and then unfortunately believing – their own hype. The long line extends back to Butch and Sundance, Jesse James and his crew. Hell, you could follow the path to Sherwood Forest and Robin Hood’s merry men. Charismatic lawbreakers – the John Dillinger types – may have had one eye on the newspapers and the headlines with their names and exploits, but they were first and foremost smooth criminals, savvy operators trolling the opposite side of the law and order game.
It is somewhat depressing to watch Sofia Coppola’s latest film, “The Bling Ring” about a collection of wayward, attention-seeking teens living in Los Angeles, near the empty glitz and glamour of Hollywood celebrity – so near in fact that it must be easy to dream of being famous. I mean, why not, when you can wander into the trendy hotspots and see Paris Hilton being Paris Hilton in the booth right next to you and then go home and watch her on “TMZ” or find out which premiere she’s scheduled to attend next? Why not get even closer? Why not waltz right through the doors of her house? The key is under the mat, right?
“The Bling Ring” kicks off with high school transfer Marc (Israel Broussard) drifting along until he meets Rebecca (Katie Chang), his soon-to-be BFF and partner-in-crime. They party together, play at being bored with the scene, and then latch onto the aforementioned idea of cruising by the vacant house of one of Marc’s acquaintances. That first taste, complete with the thrill of the act and not getting caught, leads them to upping the ante with a trip to Hilton’s pad while she’s away. It all seems so spontaneous and simple.
Yet, right off the bat, it is difficult to not be suspicious. We’ve seen one too many episodes of “CSI” maybe or spent nights watching “Heat” with a far too attentive eye, as if it offers a blueprint that could be followed. Marc and Rebecca stupidly enter with no thought to cover their tracks, leaving fingerprints everywhere, exposing their faces to potential security cameras and taking items indiscriminately (rolls of cash, designer shoes, jewelry, even intimate Polaroids – is there any sense of privacy in relation to Hilton?). Word spreads and soon the pair have a crew – Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Chloe (Claire Julien) – that adheres to the same senseless approach and broadcasting of their exploits that will inevitably lead to their capture.
The funny thing is that while none of them sees the end game, it really doesn’t matter because there are no hard consequences. The pretty perps will get caught, spin the events and gain the very notoriety they sought.
Coppola, working in much the same way she has always done, going all the way back to “The Virgin Suicides,” doesn’t judge, but she certainly allows the audience to draw their own conclusions. There’s nothing open-ended about the telling or the outcome, but what she does – and does so well – is lay out the facts. Not only the facts about the events themselves, but also about us, the obsessed watchers who have seen it all before online and endlessly on reality television shows. Maybe moreso than we’ve read in the details, which, in this case, stem from Nancy Jo Sales’s Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins.”
“The Bling Ring” shows us that it’s not the emperor who is naked now – it is us.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com