Most of Sofia Coppola’s films take an ambivalent attitude toward fame, but The Bling Ring tackles the subject from a slight remove. The movie opens with a nighttime robbery, as teens scale a fence and slip, ninja-like, onto what at first glance would appear to be a well-secured property. As the film jumps forward to their capture and then flashes back to tell their story (mitigated through media interviews), The Bling Ring clarifies that this is Orlando Bloom’s house. But the prologue—and its security-cam, night-vision POV—establishes the movie’s unusual dual perspective. This is a tale of obsessive fans, superficially unfolding from their version of events but observed by Hollywood royalty, passively watching as onlookers storm the castle.
Based on a Vanity Fair article by Nancy Jo Sales, The Bling Ring is inspired by an actual 2008–2009 rash of L.A.-area robberies, when a group of high-schoolers from Calabasas, California, managed to invade the estates of Bloom, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, and others, helping themselves to whatever they wanted. As the movie tells it, the spree begins when a smiling sociopath (Katie Chang) ropes the new kid in “dropout school” (Israel Broussard) into breaking into a friend’s house. Soon their sights turn to celebrities. It’s easy to know when “Paris” is out of town because of “news” on the Internet—and apparently she, too, leaves her keys under the mat. As the ring expands to include the duo’s friends (notably ones played by Emma Watson, who steals the movie, and Taissa Farmiga, Vera’s younger sister), The Bling Ring quietly ponders entitlement culture. In one sense, there’s not much separating these hard-partying, brand-blinded teens from Lindsay Lohan, nabbed for shoplifting at around the same time.
Dedicated to the late cinematographer Harris Savides, who was unable to complete filming, The Bling Ring shoots each robbery with a perverse matter-of-factness. It’s easily Coppola’s least flashy film, but that’s not to say it lacks poetry—the burglarizing of Hills star Audrina Patridge’s home is shown in a single, gorgeous long shot. If the tone of lyrical crime saga has critics name-checking Spring Breakers (the portrait of adolescent ineptitude also recalls Larry Clark’s Bully), The Bling Ring isn’t so much interested in provocation as sociology. Manufacturing this sort of fame is an exercise in mutual exploitation. Ostensibly victimized by the thefts, Paris Hilton is apparently healed enough to contribute a cameo—and flattered enough to allow Coppola to film in what’s reportedly her actual home. The movie captures a moment when the lines separating anonymity, fame, and notoriety are finer than ever. And as Watson’s social climber prattles on to reporters about what a great “learning lesson” her criminal experience has been, it’s easy to see another star in the making.