In a film inspired by actual events, a group of fame-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track celebrities’ whereabouts in order to rob their homes.
High Society by Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
The surveillance footage shows a group of young people scaling the perimeter fence of a luxurious property in a leafy neighbourhood. The California night is warm, the cicadas are chirping. “Shhh,” one warns as they enter the mansion. Inside, its closets are filled with things – beautiful, gorgeous things – jewellery, bags, designer labels, all the glittering magpie trappings of their celebrity owners. Sofia Coppola’s enjoyable film follows very closely the true story of the Bling Ring, a group who intensively targeted Hollywood celebrity homes for about a year, in the end making off with $3 million worth of designer stuff before they were caught and sentenced. All are now free, so the ending of the story is known already. What Coppola does is to fragment and disrupt the time line of her narrative with a pacy collage of reality-type footage, TV interviews, magazine cover collages, voiceover confessionals, lots of in-car music and that reconstructed surveillance footage.
For the film, the names have been changed, though the characters keep close to those in real life. The story told from the perspective of Marc (Israel Broussard, from Flipped and The Chaperone), a new student at a high school in affluent Calabasas, in the valley north of Los Angeles, who is befriended by Rebecca (newcomer Katie Chang). He is seen as lonely and vulnerable as she draws him into her fashion and celebrity obsession. First, she shows him how easy it is to steal from unlocked parked cars or unlocked houses when their wealthy owners are out. But icy Rebecca wants more and enlists Marc’s help to track her favourite celebrities online, easily finding out their addresses and when they are away from home. Research done, all they have to do is walk up to the sprawling house – there’s always a door unlocked somewhere – let themselves in, wander round and help themselves, carting away their spoils in one of their victim’s designer bags.
In Paris Hilton’s case, the key is simply under the front door mat. In fact, her house is so easy to just drop into, her specially designed nightclub room becomes a kind of venue as the Bling Ring’s membership grows larger – the group hangs out there more than five times – and Nicki (Emma Watson, breaking out of her Harry Potter fame), now part of it with her sisters, practises pole dancing there. Paris Hilton’s shoe closets are the size of an apartment: “Her feet are so big!”, exclaims Marc, pirouetting in shocking-pink stilettoes. Hilton has so much jewellery, so many clothes and possessions, for a long time she doesn’t even notice anything’s missing. Among other celebrity victims on Rebecca’s hit list are Megan Fox, Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge (in her transparent cube-like home, the intruders are filmed only from outside, like rats in a maze), Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr, and – one last ‘job’ – Lindsay Lohan. The many things, the Rolexes, the money (predictably hidden under the bed or in a cupboard) – and in one case, a gun – are all there for the taking.
Rebecca calls it “going shopping” – “Find a house for me. I want some Chanel”. The group strut in their purloined designer clothes and flash the cash in shopping sprees on Rodeo Drive and glitzy nightclubs. Soon they have so much stuff, they resort to a jumble sale of it on a stall on the beach. No-one seems to notice. They gossip about it with other kids at parties. It seems as though they could go on for ever until they run out of celebrities. They’re very clever in the way they use the internet to research their targets, but also very stupid in bragging and posting pictures of themselves and their trophies on Facebook, and it’s online posts that eventually identify them.
It’s all about wanting to be part of the celebrity lifestyle. In Lindsay Lohan’s house, Rebecca sprays herself with her idol’s perfume. Her first reaction when the game’s up is “What did Linday say?”. Fiction and reality overlap strangely. The scenes in Paris Hilton’s house were actually shot there, it was in a sense ‘real’. There’s even a scene where the group use cash they have stolen from her to go clubbing – at the same club that she’s in – and Hilton makes a cameo appearance. Nicki shares a cell block with Lindsay Lohan, in for one of her usual misdemeanours, and, though she didn’t meet her, is interviewed about her by a television reporter. Not mentioned in The Bling Ring is that two of the girls were in a reality TV show – cancelled when one went to jail.
In her third film looking at aspects of celebrity (Lost in Translation, Somewhere), Coppola takes what is a slight – though intriguing – story and tells at it in a many-faceted way. Her cast of relative unknowns suits the subject perfectly. Israel Brossard and Katie Chang are ones to watch. Emma Watson is convincingly American as both the willing participant in the robberies and later the mealy-mouthed interviewee who knows she must say she has learned her lesson and is growing. It’s a fun film and Coppola leaves the inexplicable up to us to ponder. Does America have a sick Bonnie and Clyde obsession, as Marc tells his psychotherapist? Have reality TV shows and the pervasive celebrity culture blurred the boundaries with real life? And why do celebrities have so many things? Were the Bling Ring destructive? Or did they do it just because they could? Enjoy Coppola’s light touch.
The Bling Ring is released on 5th July 2013 in the UK