The Bling Ring Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson. Directed by Sofia Coppola. Rated R. Opens Friday.
Ever since The Bling Ring premiered at the Cannes film festival last month, debate has swirled around the question of writer-director Sofia Coppola’s privileged upbringing, coupled with her tendency to make films (Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette, Somewhere) about the melancholy lives of the rich and/or famous. On the one hand, faulting Coppola for tackling subject matter she knows inside out is absurd—are we going after Luchino Visconti next? On the other hand, it’s her job to provide a perspective that justifies our attention, and it’s that perspective—any sense whatsoever of why the movie exists—that’s sorely missing from The Bling Ring.
This time, the Beautiful People are represented mostly by proxy: their Louis Vuitton bags, their Christian Louboutin shoes, their mansions in the Hollywood Hills. The movie’s protagonists, inspired by real people and events, are a group of LA teens (played by Emma Watson and a host of unknowns) who, on a whim, start robbing the homes of celebrities, monitoring their comings and goings on the Internet and finding their doors generally unlocked (or, in Paris Hilton’s case, with a key tucked under the front mat). While they make off with roughly $3 million in cash and property before they’re arrested, however, they seem less interested in striking it rich than in forging a connection with the U.S. equivalent of royalty.
That contemporary youth is obsessed with fame and consumed by materialism isn’t exactly a news flash, and the story of the real-life Bling Ring—that was their own name, self-applied—is little more than a vapid, E!-friendly anecdote. Coppola could conceivably have mined it for pathos or satire, but instead she treats it more or less at face value, which makes the film seem as obnoxiously inane as its characters (who surely dreamed of this validation of their escapades). Apart from one gorgeous long-distance shot of a robbery in progress, The Bling Ring lacks the dreamy, shimmery, tactile quality of Coppola’s previous work, and suggests by its absence that she doesn’t have much else to offer. The problem isn’t that she’s privileged, or that she’s drawn to stories involving the wealthy. It’s that she doesn’t have anything to say.