The Bling Ring is Sofia Coppola’s fictionalized account of the real life Hollywood Hills burglaries of 2009, when a group of young Los Angelenos spent their nights breaking into the houses of celebrities to steal their high end clothes, purses and jewelry. While it’s technically based on a Vanity Fair article about the crimes, it draws a lot of inspiration from a reality show that starred one of the participants. How familiar you are with this show is going to determine your reaction to the film. That’s problematic.
Emma Watson is the star of the movie, if not the film’s lead. She plays “Nikki” but is actually doing a spot-on impersonation of Alexis Veiers, star of the short-lived reality show Pretty Wild. Having not even heard of the show before becoming aware of this movie, I had no idea that there was a reality show tie-in. And it’s not just a tie-in. After hearing this news, and then seeing this movie, I checked out an episode of the show to see the connection, and entire scenes from the television show are recreated word-for-word in the movie. This also gave me a huge amount of appreciation for the work Leslie Mann does in the movie, as she absolutely nails the mom role.
As a pair of impressions, this works beautifully, but the film as a whole suffers. It makes no sense that a side character, Watson’s Nikki, is given the last word outside of this foreknowledge. To make things worse, any scene where just about anybody else is driving the action is boring to watch, with Katie Chang and Israel Broussard bringing very little to their roles as the leaders of the gang. For every scene of Chang’s Rebecca unemotionally asking Broussard’s Mark to keep robbing things, there’s another where he’s saying “we gotta go.” It repeats itself over and over, and it’s pointless.
I think this was meant to be some sort of satire of people who follow celebrity culture too closely. After all, what’s the next step after following people’s movements on TMZ but to break into their homes, right? But the moral or cultural implications of what this means is never explored, and instead we’re treated to multiple montages of high school students being treated like VIPs when they go partying in clubs. There’s a really good short film here, but even the 80-minute running time of this one feels too long.
Other than the perfect imitation of life by Emma Watson and Leslie Mann, there’s not much point to this movie. As an Easter egg hunt for followers of reality television and celebrity culture, the movie is a rousing success. As a piece of narrative film, not so much.
The Bling Ring opens today in San Francisco