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Klepto kicks in status symbol land: Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Bling Ring’

Baubles, bangles and beads: Taissa Farmiga, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Katie Chang and Claire Julien in Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring.”
Baubles, bangles and beads: Taissa Farmiga, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Katie Chang and Claire Julien in Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring.”
A24

The Bling Ring

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One of the more fascinating subplots in the media circus that has masqueraded as the real life of hotel heiress Paris Hilton over the past decade was a series of burglaries that occurred at her palatial Hollywood Hills home in 2008.

The perpetrators, a group of celebrity-crazed Valley teens with a fondness for designer brands, stole more than $3 million in jewelry, clothing, handbags and shoes from Hilton and other tabloid starlets like Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge and Lindsay Lohan during a nine-month period. Using paparazzi sources such as E! News and TMZ to track their whereabouts and websites like Google Maps and celebrityaddressaerial.com to locate their homes, the so-called Burglar Bunch’s reign of coked-up kleptomania ended in highly publicized scandal and jail time for the principal pilferers.

Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring,” a barely fictionalized version of the absurdly true story that could pass as the fiction routinely palmed off as fact by the National Enquirer, is based on Nancy Jo Sales’ “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” a deft and sardonic piece of journalism that appeared in the March 2010 issue of Vanity Fair, when the since-convicted suspects were in the midst of the law’s due process.

Coppola begins in the middle, with a pre-credits montage of looting that makes grand larceny seem like just another thing for bored teenagers to do on a Saturday night. “Let’s go shopping,” Katie Chang suggests in the film’s definitive line, while handheld cameras track behind the daredevil delinquents as they turn a trip to Orlando Bloom’s residence into the equivalent of a six-figure spending spree on Rodeo Drive.

Newcomer Chang plays Rebecca Ahn (the film’s version of Rachel Lee, the Korean-American ringleader of the Bling Ring) with glacial cool and unnerving avarice. A quintessential rich bitch, she steals not because she needs to but because of a compulsive desire to assume the wardrobes, if not the skins, of the celebrity elite.

She’s matched in pound for pound insipidness and lack of body fat by Nicki Moore (i.e., Alexis Neiers), an aspiring model and full-time party girl, whose sole aim in life is to become one of the chosen few of reality TV stardom. Played by Emma Watson in a startlingly mature performance, she proves without question that her movie career will continue unscathed after the decade-long hullabaloo of Harry Potter.

Then there’s Israel Broussard as Marc Hall/Nick Prugo. Presented in Sales’ article as ambiguously metrosexual, Coppola and Broussard construe him as a tragically closeted gay youth, who actually believes that it’s the quality of the clothes in the closet that makes the man.

Coppola’s antipathy toward the vapid materialism of the La La Land lifestyle was clear in 2010’s “Somewhere,” starring Stephen Dorff as a screen heartthrob paralyzed by ennui from the too convenient accessibility of chemical pleasures and permissive women.

The masterstroke in “The Bling Ring” was convincing Hilton to let her film in her actual house for two weeks and allowing the actors to rummage her bottomless collection of expensive stuff and party in her self-idolizing nightclub room—which contains, among other things, a stripper pole, strobe lights and a panorama of Paris portraits in suggestive poses.

Hilton may be the most interesting example of the celebrity icon who is famous simply for being famous, and whose fame peaked when she was at the height of her drugged- and sexed-out excess, but Lindsay Lohan is this generation’s supreme cautionary tale of wasted talent.

The final irony of “The Bling Ring” occurs in its coda, in which the Emma Watson character is interviewed after her suspended six-month prison sentence and speaks with faux camaraderie about occupying a cell adjacent to Lohan—whose house she allegedly burgled, and who was serving time for violating the conditions of probation of a DUI arrest.

While Alexis Neiers’ train wreck of a reality TV show, “Pretty Wild,” wasn’t renewed following her release from the slammer, Coppola suggests that she was perhaps just one boob job and a couple of sex scandals away from hitting the big time.

“The Bling Ring” is currently playing at the Roxy in Burlington.

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