Crime ring, 'Bling Ring'

Emma Watson plays self-absorbed Nicki in “The Bling Ring,” which is based on the real-life crime spree of a group of California teens who burglarized celebrities’ homes. The shots of Paris Hilton’s home were filmed on location.

Photo by Merrick Morton

Emma Watson plays self-absorbed Nicki in “The Bling Ring,” which is based on the real-life crime spree of a group of California teens who burglarized celebrities’ homes. The shots of Paris Hilton’s home were filmed on location.

Over the course of 15 years and five feature films, Sofia Coppola has created as impressive and distinctive a body of work as anyone in film. Some observers seem to resent the director’s lifelong access to and almost careerlong interest in wealth, celebrity and privilege, but to me her insider’s position — daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, star of “The Godfather: Part III” as a teenager, former wife of director Spike Jonze, and so on — makes her insights invaluable. Do we condemn the bluesman for writing about poverty, or the astronomer for writing science fiction?

In the fame-obsessed world of Los Angeles, a group of teenagers take us on a thrilling and disturbing crime-spree in the Hollywood hills. Based on ...

Rating: R for teen drug and alcohol use, and for language including some brief sexual references

Length: 90 minutes

Released: June 14, 2013 Limited

Cast: Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Israel Broussard

Director: Sofia Coppola

Writer: Sofia Coppola

More info and showtimes »

“The Bling Ring,” Coppola’s latest, might be a companion piece to her previous film, the beautiful, underrated “Somewhere.” That movie starred Elle Fanning as the young, smart, sweet-natured daughter of a troubled Hollywood actor (Stephen Dorff). The California high-school party girls in the “The Bling Ring” are affluent but somewhat outside the world of celebrity, and are as silly as the Elle Fanning character was endearing. Yet Coppola’s movie is not unsympathetic to their desires, misapprehensions and bad choices, even as it presents itself as a deadpan spoof of the shallow aspirations and thoughtless materialism of a self-absorbed generation and an enabling adult media that equates celebrity with accomplishment. The movie’s gaze suggests sadness, not scorn.

Based on a true story that made headlines in 2009, “The Bling Ring” chronicles the monthslong crime spree of a teenage clique based in well-to-do Calabasas, Calif., that burglarized the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom and other lower-wattage celebrities (Rachel Bilson of “The O.C.”), gaining access to information about their whereabouts and access to their addresses via the Internet. These burglaries weren’t literal “break-ins”; invariably, the victims didn’t bother to lock their doors.

Inspired by an article in Vanity Fair, the movie is fairly faithful to the facts of the case, although the names have been changed. Rebecca (Katie Chang) is the ringleader whose casually larcenous impulses — she routinely checks the doors of parked cars, in hopes of pilfering valuables — inspired the spree. Emma Watson of “Harry Potter” fame is Nicki, apparently the most self-absorbed of the girls; she describes her arrest as “a huge learning experience for me,” and tries to use it as a springboard into celebrity, claiming: “I think it is my journey to push for peace and the health of the planet.”

Nicki’s clueless mother (Leslie Mann), meanwhile, is a New Age spiritual type who cites Angelina Jolie as a role model in the “character development” classes she teaches as part of her daughters’ home-school curriculum; mother is annoyed when the girls seem more interested in Jolie’s “hot bod” than in her U.N. activism.

Coppola has been one of the movies’ most reliable biographers of female characters, from teenage unknowns to “Marie Antoinette,” but the chief protagonist of “The Bling Ring” is the group’s male member, Marc (Israel Broussard), the new kid at school, who is as obsessed with fashion and designer labels as his new (platonic) girlfriends. “I never saw myself as an A-list-looking guy,” admits Marc, adopting the lingo of The Hollywood Reporter to define his typical teenage insecurity about his attractiveness.

For Rebecca, Marc and friends, the burglaries are not just shopping sprees but immersive experiences — field trips to a lifestyle they envy and covet. Entering Paris Hilton’s unlocked home (shooting on location, Coppola shows us the real deal) and touring through room after possession-filled room, these “sluts” and “ bitches” (to use their favorite pet names for themselves) aren’t shocked by the tasteless self-regard of pillows decorated with Paris’ face and walls covered with Paris portraits — this seems natural to them, the celebrity equivalent of posting pictures online. Exclaims Marc: “She has so much stuff!”

The teens turn the celebrities’ homes into temporary party palaces, places to drink, smoke pot, sniff cocaine and dance to auto-tuned pop and hip-hop — music with processed vocals for people desperate for artificial stimulation and for greater numbers of fake friends on Facebook.

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