'The Bling Ring' Movie Review: Sofia Coppola Turns Trash Into Art

After seeing The Bling Ring, I can already envision the memoirs of the real-life perps of the Hollywood Hills burglaries gracing the lobbies of the last few standing Barnes and Nobles locations. I can imagine opening one with chagrin, only to see the plagiarized first line of Imperial Bedrooms, Bret Easton Ellis’ sequel to Less Than Zero, “So they had made a movie about us.”

If anyone has mastered the art of celebrity voyeurism, Sofia Coppola certainly has. The Bling Ring, released Friday in New York and L.A., is a new note Coppola is hitting in that same key of hers that we all know and love. This is the woman who made Marie Antoinette a Disney princess for adults, and reminded us all that Bill Murray is still a panty dropper, so it’s no surprise that she could make an already disturbingly compelling story compulsively watchable. And perhaps it’s that compulsion that’s attracting the upturned noses of some particularly compassionate critics.

Amy Kaufman wrote for the L.A. Times last week, “The real-life protagonists and an ever-growing circle of Hollywood types who have sought to capture or capitalize on their escapades have intermingled in strange, sometimes disturbing, ways.” She also noted, “While the stars of The Bling Ring were decked out in designer wares on the Croisette [at Cannes] last week, many of the members of the actual group are trying to piece their lives back together.” To that, all I really have to say is how much do you get paid per word?

But, back to what is much less vacuous than a reporter sensationalizing the making of a film, the film itself. The movie plays out much the way you would expect a Coppola film to. It is only loud when it needs to be, and lets the soundtrack, uncharacteristically peppered with Jay-Z, M.I.A., 2 Chainz, and Kanye West, make the noise when it does need to be audibly felt. You do have to wade a bit into the film to get the less narratively driven and more visually motivated shots that Coppola is known for, but once you do it’s well worth the wait. Midway through the film as two characters rob the modern, glass home of Audrina Patridge, the entire scene is an extreme wide shot nestled back into the hills, letting the city of Los Angeles be the protagonist for a moment as coyotes, winds, sirens, and helicopters all sound. 

Initially I found the acting a bit off-putting, but then I realized that the acting was actually very fine-tuned, the actors were just honing in on how inelegant and frenetic the real-life teenagers were. Emma Watson especially shines, capturing perhaps the most offensive of the group, Alexis Neiers. If anyone tried to capitalize on the incident it was the Neiers family, staring in a disgusting reality show on E! called Pretty Wild as the trial unfolded.  Unfortunately the illustrious clip of Neiers leaving an Adderall-flavored voicemail for Vanity Fair reporter Nancy Jo Sales after reading Sales’ story based on this interview, has been taken down. The scene, chalk full of Neiers screaming, crying, and the religious-science-fueled encouragement of her mother, if anything points out that Leslie Mann was a bit underutilized in the film, but she still has some great moments.

The most interesting character however is Marc, based on Nick Prugo and played by Israel Broussard. It’s never directly stated whether the character is gay, but the transformation of Marc is one of the most beautiful parts of the film, and will probably be one of the least talked about. Marc begins an awkward loner, uncomfortable in his body, and through the rush and acceptance of participating in the crimes becomes comfortable and lively. He wears the pink pumps of Paris Hilton and gives his female accomplices fashion advice. In a black-and-white scene he dances alone in his room, puckering his lips and tossing his scarf. He waxes poetic about the “beautiful things” they had taken. Regardless of the veracity of the depiction, it’s a whole hell of a lot more interesting than the Hills type bro Prugo probably is in real life, and adds poignancy to the story that is absent in its real life counterpart.

The film unfortunately gave Paris Hilton an excuse to be back on camera, but her cameo and allowance of filming in her actual house do add an authenticity. Hilton also sucked as much attention out of Cannes as possible, whimpering to reporters that she got teary watching the film. It’s not that it’s an invalid reaction, but having participated in the filming, it’s a little over cooked.

Ultimately it’s that indulgence, attention-seeking, and derailing of celebrities like Hilton that was intoxicating to the perpetrators of the actual crime to begin with. But regardless of who or what you blame, we should all really just be pointing at ourselves, because America is just the kind of ridiculous place where teenagers turn robbing celebrities into a game. At least Coppola made art out of it for us that’s much more worth our time than any of the coverage of the actual events. Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids” plays as the credits roll.