Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Film Review - The Bling Ring

Sofia Coppola took the idea for this film from the Vanity Fair article The Suspects Wore Louboutins by Nancy Jo Sales about a group über rich high school kids from Calabasas, California that broke into celebrities houses in the Hollywood Hills and stole over 3 million of dollars worth of clothing, money, jewels and designer items.  The gang used celebrity news web sites to determine when their targets were at a premiere, out of town for an appearance or to shoot a film. Next they found the celebrities houses and layouts using google and google earth then headed to the homes preceded by their catch phrase "Let's Go Shopping."

Beginning with a shot of the teens in a home emptying jewellery boxes and grabbing clothes from closets. Followed by their departure unaware that their exit from the premises was being filmed on a security camera Coppola sets the tone for the Bling Rings method of pilfering and their general lack of awareness.  The scene shifts to outside of the courthouse as the media take pictures and ask questions of the ring members post arrest. One oblivious member of the group speaks to the cameras remarking that she is a firm believer in karma and this situation is a huge learning situation for me to grow and expand as a spiritual human being.

The story picks up again one year earlier where we meet two high school aged girls Nicki (Emma Watson) and her adopted sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga) being called by their mom Laurie (Leslie Mann)  both obviously showing signs of the morning after a late night on a school night. They head down to a breakfast of Adderall and Cereal to begin new age home schooling based on the The Secret from their mother along with Nicki's younger sister Emma (Georgia Rock) .

Next we meet Marc (Israel Broussard) starting day one at the dropout school Indian Hills. He meets Rebecca (Katie Chang) and they start up a friendship.  Marc is invited to a party at Rebecca as her mom and her husband are out of town. During the party the duo head out on the street to check cars one is open with a wallet containing money and a credit card easily at hand. A few days later Marc learns that Rebecca broke into a house and they head to an address of an acquaintance of Marc's who is away on vacation. The two go in and take some souvenirs. From there the pair are looking at a celebrity site and notice that Paris Hilton is out of town. They google her address, check the layout on google earth then head to her home for their first celebrity break in. The pair soon return with aspiring model Nicki, Sam and their pal Chole (Claire Julien).  Marc and Becca play tour guide to the newbies showing them where the best rooms are in the Hilton home to grab some loot.

Coppola filmed many sequences amongst the friends and in the homes by hand held camera. There is a great shot as Marc and Rebecca head up the stairs in the Hilton home (Hilton gave Coppola permission to shoot there) that is originally focused on the framed magazine covers on the circular wall then they blur and the camera switches to a razor sharp image of Marc and Becca as they ascend to Paris' bedroom. The cinematographers Harris Savides and Christopher Blauvelt used a lot of natural light for framing scenes in the movie as illustrated in the interview with Nicki and her mom for the Vanity Fair article.

One of the film's highlights is the break in at Audrina Partridge (of the the Hills fame) home. There are no inside scenes of the break in; instead its filmed outside, above and at distance. Because the Partridge house is all glass the scene is voyeuristic as Marc and Becca go from room to room up and down levels, inside and outside, opening doors going through drawers and closets in each room of the two story hillside home.

The piece is well written as a narrative. The linear story is interspaced with the ring members interviews for Vanity Fair as they recount how they became involved and their interrelationships. Nancy Jo Sales earns a co-writing credit for the movie. Its fast moving and the court case is handled by a particular unique technique setting up the beginning of the court proceedings and to signal the end and verdict.

The story does lack in character development. We meet the main characters see them commit the break ins first as a pair and eventually branching out to 6 or 7 participants. The script does not provide insight on why each member choose to get involved and no depth on Becca the Ringleader. Why was she driven to start this behaviour or why does she has no inkling that what she was did was wrong.  We learn that she is in the dropout school due to illegal substances and that she lives with her mom in L.A. while her father lives in Las Vegas.  Marc has the most in depth development, he has a confidence problem doubts about his looks and difficulty fitting in. He remarks that Rebecca is the first best friend that he ever had. He in the delinquent school because he was kicked out of his former school due to absences.

The gang treat these homes as stores in a mall shopping for items, trying things on gushing about brand name clothing, handbags, sunglasses, shoes and watches and taking what they want including prescription pills, carpets off the floor and pictures off the walls. Their need to be near and part of the celebrity culture often referring to their targets by their first name gave them notoriety in their own right. After the arrest Marc brags that he received 800 friend request on Facebook and accepted them all!  Perhaps the most telling line in the film is that of Becca when she learns in custody that the police have talked to the celebrities that were robbed and her only thought is to ask what her fashion idol Lindsay Lohan had to say about the group.

Music is a key part of the piece. The friends hang out in a popular L.A. club that features house and dance music. They have a regular table, bottle services and every legal and illegal stimulant that their fenced goods and stolen cash could buy. Rap is the preference as they drive around town; Coppola choice to have no music at all during the burglaries is very effective. The only sounds are communication between the group. Its silence other than the sounds of opening and closing door, drawers and closets plus the jingling of jewellery.

Costume designer Stacey Battat is an important contributor to the film. The cast spend the majority of their time in famous peoples closets going through there clothes, pulling designer label outfits off the racks, trying on pieces in full lengths mirrors then digging through multiple accessories from jewellery to sunglasses to expensive watches.  As important is the work of set decorator Sara Parks as the film had to recreate the interior of the celebrity homes, rooms and apartment sized closets where the treasures are found.

Coppola does comment on the cult of celebrity and the obsession with fame and famous people but there was a real opportunity to go into the psyche of the parties involved that was missed.  The film has some good points but it does not go deep enough below the surface into the subject matter to warrant a recommendation.

** out of 4.

The Bling Ring | Sofia Coppola | USA/UK/ France/Germany/Japan | 2013| 90 Minutes.

Teens, Celebrity, juveniles, Google Earth, Paris Hilton, Audrina Partridge, Orlando Bloom, Miranda Kerr,  Megan Fox, Rachel Bison  Lindsay Lohan, Home schooling, Facebook, TMZ.


  1. This is a funny, sarky, bang-on portrayal of the freakiness of celeb obsession. The story would sound outrageous - if it wasn't true.

    Dwayne Johnston (Eureka Joe's)

    1. Thanks for the comment Dwayne.

      The film does delve into the subject matter and shows once again that truth is stranger than fiction!