Why would a group of perfectly well-off brats break into the homes of the rich and famous to steal clothes, jewelry, shoes and even the decor?
This is the question for Sofia Coppola's latest film, "The Bling Ring," based on the real-life Los Angeles band of teenagers who robbed the residences of Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson and Megan Fox, among others.
It's not like these delinquents need the goods. They already wear the designer duds and drive the luxury cars that would make any teenager outside the 310-area code green with envy.
No, Coppola suggests that something deeper drives their exploits. Abandoned youth has long been a favorite topic of hers, be it youth betrayed by marriage ("Lost in Translation"), power ("Marie Antoinette") or sexuality ("The Virgin Suicides"). In "The Bling Ring," the kids have been corrupted by excess. They can rattle off designer names as if they're family. They worship at the TMZ temple of celebrity. Every move they make must be recorded on social media.
Coppola tells her story through the eyes of Marc (Israel Broussard), a chubby, self conscious teen who is new to a so-called "dropout high school" in Los Angeles. There, he befriends Rebecca (Katie Chang), a pretty girl who already has a knack for petty theft.
They soon realize how easy it is to raid the closets – literally – of their favorite stars and together they become a Bonnie and Clyde for the US Weekly era. Just wait for a gossip blog to report a celeb is out of town, Google her address and check for a key under the mat.
All told, they steal $3 million in goods. The operation is so simple that the teens are able to break in to Paris Hilton's home five times without her noticing. (Hilton, unabashedly, let Coppola film in her own home.)
Chloe (Claire Julien), a blonde club rat joins in on the fun, as does Nicki (Emma Watson) and her adopted sister Emily (Georgia Rock), whose mother (Leslie Mann) feeds them Adderall-like candy and home-schools them according to the principles of "The Secret." (Alexis Neiers, the inspiration for Watson's character, was filming a reality television show when she was arrested for the burglaries, from which some of "The Bling Ring" scenes appear to be directly taken.)
Their goal is to mirror the lifestyle of their targets, with wearing their very clothes being only step 1. The thieves pawn off some of their booty for cash, which they spend on VIP tables at their victims' favorite haunts, picking up some nasty drug habits along the way.
Once the kids have perfected their formula – rob a celebrity home, hit the club, take a selfie, repeat – "The Bling Ring" gets a little mundane. But that doesn't take from Coppola's impressive camerawork, particularly an extended wide angle of the kids raiding a window-laden mansion, nor a brilliant soundtrack that perfectly expresses the bandits' desires.
Moments – especially those that include Watson, who transforms her British accent into a Valley girl whine – are darkly humorous. But much of "The Bling Ring" is horrifyingly matter of fact. Its characters never once ponder the legal or moral consequences of their actions. More despairing is how blind their parents appear to be to the repercussions. Once caught, the teens get a taste of the very celebrity they tried to emulate, perhaps the scariest aspect of all.
But Copolla lets the courts do the judging of the bling ringers – that they're eventually caught is promised by the film's beginning. She is more interested in judging the culture that created them.