The next time somebody complains that a supposedly ‘real’ movie takes liberties with the truth (like, say, The Social Network), I want to show them The Bling Ring. This is what happens when you don’t dramatize your movie. For all I know, the events portrayed here may well be accurate representations of the actions of a few rich, beautiful, klepto SoCal teenagers—but they don’t constitute a movie.
This is a movie that has one interesting beat, and then goes nowhere. It’s sort of fun in the way you’d expect—but let’s nobody get this twisted and pretend that it’s any sort of quality movie or anything. If this was a 20-minute Dateline special, you’d be intrigued. That’s not a compliment.
Based on real events, The Bling Ring follows the aforementioned rich California high school students—Rebecca (Katie Chang), her gay friend Marc (Israel Broussard), Nicki (Emma Watson) and others who all look like extras from Gossip Girl—as they sneak into celebrities’ surprisingly-unsecured homes and make off with their clothes, their accessories, their shoes, or their wads of cash. For a while, they get away with this, perhaps because the celebs—Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, et al.—don’t notice a few purses or watches missing amidst their collections. Ultimately, of course, the teens are caught and punished.
And…that’s it, folks. For the life of me, I can’t understand why someone thought this story—shockingly deficient of conflict—was sufficient for a screenplay. There’s just…nothing here. The kids antics’ don’t affect any of the relationships within the group. They don’t affect anyone’s popularity at school. There’s nothing new that they can do only by virtue of their successful thievery. There’s little to no conflict within the group. Nobody arcs. And the one boy being gay precludes the possibility of any romantic tension that might have livened things up.
Without conflict, repetition sets in. Most of the film simply shows nighttime break-ins of fancy houses—with nary a new development or twist or obstacle in sight. Bizarrely, the kids never have to actually work to rob their targets, never get caught in the homes or have to make an escape (save one riveting moment of momentarily ducking behind a bush)—making those repetitive scenes even more dull by the 5th or 6th or 7th iteration.
Repetition rears its ugly head elsewhere, too. You know that scene you’ll see early in a movie sometimes, where the characters are out partying, just dancing and having fun? And nothing really happens, but that’s OK, because it’s over quickly and it shows the characters enjoying themselves? There are like five of those scenes here.
The film teases potentially interesting ironies—namely, Nicki’s mother occupying the straight-edge, hippie, New Age-end of the selfless/selfish spectrum—and then does nothing with them.
The one saving grace, aside from the titillating hook and initial intrigue, concerns the actors, all of whom acquit themselves well. Emma Watson’s accent seems to drift back and forth from British to American, but other than that, she seems more comfortable than she did in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
So many reviewers, as they tend to do, focused on the macro-level picture, debating whether Coppola was delivering a social message. I don’t particularly care about that; I don’t care whether she’s judging these kids or embracing them. I want interesting things happening to and amongst the characters on screen long before I care about the broader picture. Unfortunately, with The Bling Ring, you’ll never get there.
At one point, when Rebecca and Marc rob Audrina Partridge’s house, writer/director Sofia Coppola shoots them from high off in the distance. It’s an intriguing sight: we see their shadowy figures, through those glass doors and windows, wordlessly making their way through the house, as police sirens wail in the background. The shot seems to set you up to be one step ahead of the characters—maybe those sirens will reach the house, maybe the true owner will walk in downstairs, visible to us but not the robbers upstairs, maybe something will happen. But no. Just another blank shot.