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.