The United States of Narcissism

Review: ‘The Bling Ring’ were taught they deserve it all—so they took it

AP

Sofia Coppola—daughter of Francis Ford, child of Hollywood—showed she had a keen eye for the absurdity of celebrity life in Lost in Translation (2003). Her surprise hit exposed the emptiness of the suave set’s rituals from the perspective of two insiders: a fading star shooting commercials in Japan and the emotionally isolated wife of a popular photographer.

But that life doesn’t look so empty when shown through the lens of TMZ and Access Hollywood and Entertainment Weekly. It looks glamorous—bottle service and Bugattis and Burberry—even when something decidedly unglamorous, like prison time, is involved. A nice set of diamonds and a tight minidress can make any perp walk shine.

This is the world of The Bling Ring. The film’s teenage protagonists are on the outside of the glamorous life, but just barely. They live in Los Angeles. Their parents are well off, but not fabulously so. Some of the adults work in "the industry," though not in any starring roles. And their influence on the kids is light, when it’s not pernicious. One mother (Leslie Mann, who nails the role of a ditzy mama bear) homeschools her children according to the edicts of "The Secret." She teaches her kids they can have anything, if they just hope for it.

The characters in The Bling Ring flit in and out of the same nightspots as Lindsay Lohans of the world, taking selfies surrounded by starlets to show their Facebook friends how important they are. They are surrounded by the message that their lives are meaningless if they aren’t on television, if they aren’t hot enough to make the A-list, if they aren’t wearing Chanel dresses and Rolex watches and Alexander McQueen sunglasses.

Paris Hilton goes to the club every night? Then we’re going to go to the club every night. The girls on The Hills have their own fashion lines? Well, why can’t we have "lifestyle brands"?

Our heroes decide to take what they want. After some petty theft involving unlocked sports cars and out-of-town schoolmates, Rebecca (Katie Chang) convinces Marc (Israel Broussard) to look up Paris Hilton’s home address. A quick Google search and a jumpcut and we’re there, checking if the hotel heiress left her keys under the welcome mat. She did, they take them, and we enter opulence.

After luxuriating in Paris’ manse for a bit—and relieving her of a few baubles she surely won’t miss—the pair leave. But the itch strikes again, and next time the duo bring along pals Sam (Taissa Farmiga), Nicki (Emma Watson), and Chloe (Claire Julien).

Rebecca and Marc decide to find new celebrity homes to rip off. In the Internet age, it’s not difficult to find targets: Tracking the movements of celebrities using TMZ ensures the homes are empty. The addresses are only a few clicks away.

Eventually, of course, our protagonists get caught. The brazenness of their crime spree, combined with their self-indulgent penchant for taking photos of themselves wearing the illicitly gained goods, made that inevitable.

The camera’s eye is a recurring motif in Coppola’s perceptive, devastating film. Girls snap selfies, Marc dances in front of his laptop cam while smoking pot, security cameras grab video of the break ins, and the cameras of the paparazzi constantly flash. In the United States of Narcissism, you’re nothing if you can’t see yourself on a screen.

By the film’s end, the Bling Ring has achieved the only thing they’ve ever really wanted: a modicum of fame. Vanity Fair comes knocking. Television shows want to know what it was like in prison. They have websites and personal brands to promote. Their stars are on the rise, and their egos are sated.

Coppola’s camera closes on a smile.