Sofia Coppola has spent much of her career enticing viewers to shed a tear for the poor little rich boys and girls of the world. With her fifth feature, she turns her attention to the sidelines, where scores of disaffected, raised-on-reality-TV teenagers yearn to catch the spotlight's leering gaze and live the lives of leisure enjoyed by their entitled idols. In doing so, the oft-maligned writer-director charges herself with an unenviable task: depicting obsession as experienced by the complacent.
The Bling Ring takes its name from the real-life cabal of Southern California acquaintances who made a habit of breaking, entering and burgling their favorite celebrities' Beverly Hills homes. (In the film, Paris Hilton's mansion practically becomes their clubhouse.) Coppola has crafted well-drawn analogs for the actual perpetrators: Cold-blooded Rebecca (Katie Chang) hatches the schemes while her insecure sidekick Marc (Israel Broussard) handles the particulars. Frequently along for the ride are Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga)—home-schooled friends who subsist on Ativan and treat The Secret as scripture—and Chloe (Claire Julien), who wears the bruises from her latest DUI accident like a badge of honor.
Indeed, Coppola skillfully conveys a key cultural shift: the desire for fame supplanted by an appetite for infamy. Somewhere along the line, an embarrassing nip slip became something to aspire to. Furthermore, her film illustrates precisely how little regard people now have for their own security, whether celebrities not thinking to activate alarm systems or the Ring proving only too eager to publicize its exploits on Facebook. Self-preservation seems to have become a lost art form.
The final work of the late cinematographer Harris Savides, The Bling Ring is every bit as visually exquisite as Coppola's previous work and often more formally adventurous. In one instance of bravura staging, a house of floor-to-ceiling windows serves as a veritable diorama, allowing us to watch an entire robbery unfold in a single extended shot. However, as if taking cues from its players' well-honed apathy, the film is dramatically flat. Never displaying the interplay between the vibrant and the melancholic that made Lost in Translation and Somewhere so engaging, The Bling Ring invites you to admire it from a distance rather than immerse yourself in it. Ultimately, it's a work very much of its time. Which is to say: readily disposable.
Critic's Grade: C+
SEE IT: The Bling Ring is rated R. It opens Friday at Clackamas, Fox Tower, Lloyd Mall.