At the risk of aligning myself with your neighborhood parson, there's something not-quite-right about watching the revelry and raunchiness of privileged high schoolers. Once kiddies get to college, most of us accept that depravity (or, at the very least, "experimentation") is part of the package. But when a film's subjects are 16-year-olds, watching them voluntarily enter the underworlds of crime and drugs — especially in Los Angeles — feels borderline pornographic.
Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, based on a Vanity Fair article about Hollywood teenagers who burglarize A-listers' mansions, has all sorts of extended fetishy moments throughout. It's the montage to which fashionistas blithely masturbate. The high-cal entree of the 87-minute visual feast is something like a fashion show, during which the cherubic thieves track down celebrity addresses, outwit security cameras with hoodies, enter through unlocked doors and then try on the shoes and the clothes and brandish the luggage of Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge, Orlando Bloom and Paris Hilton whilst exclaiming "Oh my god!" on repeat. They steal $3 million worth of goods, all told, get caught and then feel really sorry for themselves...in the way of shallow, excessively privileged high schoolers.
At the center of all this nonsense is Marc, a new kid in school who's shy and self conscious about his looks. He's a teenager, frankly, about whom the most endearing quality is the non-flamboyance of his homosexuality. And that's a compliment. It's really a striking, quiet performance by the newcomer Israel Broussard and it anchors a matrix of awful characters so entombed in their attitudes — Scientology, materialism, obsession with pop icons — that they're impossible to relate to. (Emma Watson, heartbreakingly, appears to be playing herself).
What a film can do that an article never could is indulge in the outlandish excess of these celebrities' things. It's like watching some fantasy-land, teeny bopper music video. Coppola languishes for long stretches in walk-in closets and follows the awe-struck children unblinkingly as they immerse themselves therein.
That hints at the much more interesting element of the film: not the burglaries themselves, but the fucked-up psyches of these damaged youngsters, their utter lack of depth. To say nothing of the fact that they're riding around snorting cocaine, spending untold sums on alcohol and racking up DUIs with little to no repercussions. They seem to be victims of the gross culture particular to Hollywood. And it's no accident that the momentum of their burglaries, and the cash and clothes they accrue in consequence, changes the fundamental goal: It's not to be near celebrities. It's to become one.
And because they sort of do, one depressing suspicion that The Bling Ring reinforces (with great pizzazz) is that fame might not be much more than its trappings.