Film review: The Bling Ring - OMG! Emma Watson and Sofia Coppola's flash mob steal the show

4.00

 

"Let's go shopping" are the first words we hear in Sofia Coppola's wry and fascinating feature film based on the true story of the Los Angeles teenagers, the "Bling Ring". This is the group which reportedly burgled the homes of various celebrities, Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom and Lindsay Lohan among them.

Coppola is the ideal chronicler of these pampered adolescents' misdeeds. This isn't because of her own celebrity credentials (although they obviously helped – Paris Hilton might not have been so excited about collaborating on the movie otherwise). What makes Coppola so perfect to tell this story is precisely what infuriates many about her film-making style – namely her detachment and emotional coolness. The characters in this film are very familiar to us from celebrity magazines, reality shows and websites such as TMZ. However, Coppola's style is determinedly anti-tabloid. She is more the anthropologist looking in from a distance at her materially minded, fame- obsessed protagonists than she is the gossip columnist, barging in on their lives in search of sensationalism. She is intrigued by everything about their behaviour from the clothes they wear to their favourite clubs and music and their social-networking habits.

Her detached approach is summed up perfectly in one beautifully shot sequence in which the two ringleaders Rebecca (Katie Chang) and Marc (Israel Broussard) burgle a celebrity home. They are filmed in long shot and we see them through the glass walls as if they are exotic animals being observed in a natural history documentary. The home is deliberately made to seem like a doll's house, set against the Los Angeles night sky. (This was the final feature shot by the brilliant cinematographer Harris Savides, who died late last year and who also shot Noah Baumbach's LA-set Greenberg.)

Emma Watson, in a radical departure from Hogwarts stereotyping, is very impressive as the supremely narcissistic and foxy Nicki Moore. She reels off the "oh my Gods!" as if she is a natural-born Californian and delivers lines like "your butt looks awesome" with such conviction that we're never quite sure whether she is playing her part tongue in cheek or not.

Throughout the film, Coppola shows an understatement worthy of Evelyn Waugh's satirical Hollywood-set novel, The Loved One. The characters here behave – at least in outsiders' eyes – so strangely anyway that there is no need for any rhetorical flourishes or lurches toward melodrama. The director doesn't judge them. She leaves us to make up our own minds, too, about the Marie Antoinette-like excesses of Paris Hilton's wardrobe. One of the most comic ironies is the celebrities' utter obliviousness to the fact that their possessions are being stolen. They have so much stuff anyway and the Bling Ring never takes enough for it to be too obvious what has gone missing.

If the film (and the Vanity Fair article that inspired it) are taken as the measure, these celebrities pay very little attention to personal security. They leave their house keys under the mat, their wallets in their cars and they tell all their fans when they are going to be out of town. If you want to know where they live, you just type their names in a computer and up the address pops online.

As in Larry Clark movies, there is a huge divide here between the adolescents and their parents, who are only seen fleetingly and largely leave the children to their own devices. "At least I don't look like I am 35" is the most damning insult the kids can offer each other. The one mom (Leslie Mann) we do encounter is so flaky and has such strange ideas about religion, celebrity and home schooling that the teens seem almost level-headed by comparison.

In their sunglasses, high heels and dresses (mostly taken from Paris Hilton's wardrobe), the young burglars look so poised and sophisticated that we don't realise their age. Only when the authorities catch up with them does it become apparent how young and vulnerable they actually are.

In a subculture where youth, affluence and looks mean so much, there are subtle but important distinctions. Rebecca (Chang) is good looking and well-off... but not quite as good looking and well off as the people she steals from and wants to be like. Marc likewise has an inferiority complex. They are students together at a school for troubled teens but we're given little clue what difficulties they've endured. There are fleeting references to Bonnie and Clyde. An obvious difference is that these renegades don't shoot anybody. Nor does their unhappiness (if indeed they are unhappy) manifest itself in James Dean-like fits of rebelliousness or violence. They are rebels with a cause – namely to acquire as much designer clothing and footwear from their celebrity idols as they can.

It would have been all too easy for Coppola to mock her teen kleptomaniacs. She can't resist a few subtle digs at their preoccupations – the way they talk about launching their own line of fragrance one moment and saving Africa the next and their obsession with always being noticed. (The broadcasting of the surveillance footage of their burglaries gives them the exposure that Paris Hilton and co enjoyed as a matter of routine. They are also delighted when they are noticed by the celebrities whose houses they ransacked.) However, even if the Bling Ring did make off with an estimated $3m in high-end goods, they weren't exactly a ruthless international gang.

Coppola seems intrigued, baffled, exasperated and amused by them in equal measure. She doesn't have any big moral message to impart about their behaviour. Her film plays as a case study as much as it does as a drama. The emotional temperature may be low but The Bling Ring has the same nuance and sly observation that made Coppola's earlier films Lost in Translation and Somewhere so distinctive.

The Bling Ring (15)

Sofia Coppola, 90mins

Starring: Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

    Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

    No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
    How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

    Power of the geek Gods

    Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

    Perfect match

    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

    Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

    Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
    Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

    Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

    He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high