Another ‘based on true events’ film, this one is rather different from the various war and terrorism ones I’ve watched in recent months.
Marc (Israel Broussard) turns up at a new school after a year of home-schooling. Outcast and scorned by most of the school, he is befriended by Rebecca (Katie Chang), a fellow student who invites him to a party and is impressed by Marc’s unusually detailed knowledge of women’s fashions. Finding that one of Marc’s few, and not particularly close, other friends is away, Rebecca asks Marc where the house is and leads the pair to the empty property which the couple rob. This is Rebecca’s hobby. Soon, using Marc’s internet Google skills, they start identifying celebrity houses to rob, taking both money and items to sell, but also souvenirs and status items for themselves. Joined by friend Nicki (Emma Watson) and a small band of associates, they embark on a spree of celebrity-house burglaries, boasting to their friends at parties of what they’ve taken and, most importantly, who it had belonged to.
Taking the character of Marc as the central one is an interesting decision. Although the only male in the group, this is not a sexist decision. Marc’s sexual orientation is not absolutely specified (or if it was, I missed it) but it seems to me that he is probably gay but what matters more is that, even when he finds his place among the ‘bling ring’, he is still the outsider so is the nearest thing to our ‘in’ to this world, the person whose experiences give us our key to understanding it.
This is a very interesting film in general, to me at least. The characters are not particularly sympathetic – they are celebrity-obsessed and shallow, judging themselves and others on the labels worn. And they are unashamed thieves. And yet…
Nicki and her adoptive sister are shown being brought up to these values as they are home-schooled to a repulsive materialistic religion. Marc is unfairly ostracised when he first turns up at school but, when he starts wearing expensive and designer clothes, he becomes both self-confident and popular. And, when everything starts to go wrong, as it is clear from the outset it will, we see that they are still in reality children, unprepared for real-world consequences.
Coppola was given permission to use Paris Hilton’s real house for this film, which would, on the surface of it, suggest that Hilton thought Coppola would show her in a good light. While not directly criticising her, Coppola does clearly infer the ridiculous vanity and outrageous consumerism of Hilton and her ilk, and the portrayal of this as somehow aspirational by the media, is the rotten heart of the society in which the children were raised and, if they are not blameless (Nicki’s self-justifications are particularly loathsome), we shouldn’t be surprised when they behave in accordance with the twisted values they have inherited.