When you actually have to tone down the absurdity of a real life story and its characters for a big screen adaptation, you know you're digging into a pop culture goldmine. The true events on which Sofia Coppola's new release The Bling Ring are based are so vehemently outlandish that you'd going to be hard-pressed to believe they could ever have taken place... that is, we would be if we hadn't been graced with the glories of this reality TV phenomenon a few years back.
Those of you adhered to the buzz will remember with particular clarity (due to the number of YouTube replays you likely enjoyed) the phone call between Alexis Neiers, the Bling Ring member embodied by an off-the-wall Emma Watson in the film, and the voicemail machine of one Nancy Jo Sales, the Vanity Fair editor who explored the jarring story of the group of privileged Hollywood teens who made a hobby out of burglarizing the homes of the rich and famous. In response to the article, a tearful Neiers called Sales with a laughably vapid profession of angst, attempting to air her grievances through explosive thoughts and an interrupting mother. Joel McHale has a ball with the tailor-made-for-The Soup clip below:
Now, in light of The Bling Ring's release and a newly revived conversation about the ordeal, Sales herself chimes in with the below response to The Huffington Post:
"I'm so glad I didn't pick up the phone, because she was in distress. It would not have been a productive conversation. But if I had been able to talk to her I would have reassured her that the Vanity Fair article -- which was very straightforward and made no judgments about her innocence or guilt -- would have no bearing on her adjudication whatsoever, which it didn't. It was just a magazine article and it really meant her no harm, and I don't think did her any harm. Her case was her case. She pled no contest to burglary, which is a strike offense in the state of California. I think that says it all that she pled no contest. She got a 180-day sentence, which is an extremely light sentence for this offense, and she did 29 days. So I don't think Alexis Neiers has a whole lot to complain about at this point."
Considering the fact that the whole reason she got into the burglary business was to achieve notoriety, she sure doesn't. She got a reality show, a phone call clip that went viral, and now a movie about her story wherein she is played by one of the most beloved young actresses in Hollywood today. Face it, those of you who still believe that justice prevails... Alexis Neiers kind of won.
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Sofia Coppola's latest film, The Bling Ring, brings the true story of a gang of young, celebrity-obsessed thieves, as chronicled in Nancy Jo Sales' 2010 Vanity Fair article "The Suspects Wore Louboutins," to the big screen. In the movie, we watch as Rebecca (Katie Chang) leads a group of friends in a series of celebrity home invasions, burglarizing the likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, and Orlando Bloom (among others).
The group's forays are motivated by a misplaced feeling of entitlement and a profound hunger for fame, making the entire story — and now Coppola's not-quite-fictionalized portrayal of events — somewhat prophetic. Before the final credits roll, both real and imagined Bling Rings achieve the very fame they so coveted.
While visions of Emma Watson (who plays teenaged thief Nicki), with her perfectly painted face and shiny brunette extensions, may dominate trailer time and promotional materials, it is in fact a boy — Marc, played by Israel Broussard — at the center of all the Bling Ring's drama. We see the formation of the crew and its exploits through the soft, doe-brown eyes of Marc, a self-conscious outsider who believes Rebecca to be, as he says (and the real Bling Ring "rat" Nick Prugo states in Sales' article), "the first person I felt was, like, my best friend." Portrayed by relative newcomer Broussard, Marc is a sympathetic — if misguided — lens to the inner-workings of the Bling Ring.
From Marc's vantage point, we watch Rebecca, Nicki, Sam (Taissa Farmiga), and Chloe (Claire Julien), "go shopping" in celebrity home after celebrity home. We watch as they try on Hervé Leger dresses and too-big Jimmy Choos. As they brandish about Brian Austin Green's pistol. As they snort cocaine off of compact mirrors while they blast Rick Ross from their car speakers. As they go clubbing… and clubbing again… and again. As they drink iced lattes. For Marc and the ladies, this is the life. But from an outsider's point of view, it's monotonous. And as a film, it's an aimless spiral of designers and drugs that borders on boring in its redundancy.
But The Bling Ring is not without its high points. It is speckled with scene-stealing performances, among them Broussard, Watson, and Leslie Mann as Nicki's Juicy sweatsuit-wearing, The Secret-loving mother; Julien is charming and hilarious as the degenerate Chloe. In the film's third act, however, Watson decides to up the ante and hijack the entire movie.
Marc is left in the shadows while Nicki, with her inadvertently hilarious prosthelytizing, steals the spotlight. While I have to believe that this happens in large part because Nicki's real life model, Alexis Neiers, captured the public's attention in 2010 with her reality show Pretty Wild (and that notorious "disappointed" phone call to Sales), it's jarring to suddenly leave Marc's narrative behind and follow Nicki through to the film's end.
But with Marc suddenly gone from the picture, the viewers have lost their anchor and the film suffers for it. He was the little substance we had to cling to in this nauseating roller-coaster ride of entitlement and excess. Without him, we can't help but feel a bit abandoned. Marc's disappearance personifies another major fault with the film, which is that Coppola fails to see things through — not on a plot-level, but thematically. She introduces her viewers to the world of celebrity obsession, but we are never really entranced by it. Repulsed rather than compelled by the characters, the audience is unable to relate to the Bling Ring members and therefore fails to see its own celebrity infatuation reflected in the characters' deeds. While this film had the opportunity to enlighten viewers to our own grotesque obsession with fame, we are instead left only denegrating the film's antiheros for theirs.
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Sofia Coppola's latest movie The Bling Ring has attracted criticism from a member of the real life burglar bunch on which the film is based. Alexis Neiers served four weeks behind bars for her part in the so-called 'Bling Ring' gang, which broke into the homes of stars including Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom in 2008 and 2009 and snatched more than $3 million (£1.9 million) worth of goods.
Emma Watson's character, Nicki, is believed to be inspired by Neiers, but the 21 year old is adamant she has no plans to watch Coppola's crime drama.
In a series of posts on her Twitter.com page, she writes, "It's trashy and inaccurate... The truth will come out soon enough and I have no intention of seeing this film."
The former TV star, who featured on reality series Pretty Wild, also claims The Bling Ring is "based on inaccurate information" put forward by Los Angeles detective Brett Goodkin and journalist Nancy Jo Sales, who she argues are just as "status obsessed" as she and her friends were.
She adds, "(The film is) based on Detective Goodkin and Nancy Joe Sales (sic) inaccurate information. 2 people who are everything they accused us of being... Celebrity status obsessed, fame & money hungry..."