There can’t be many films that claim to be based on an article written for Vanity Fair magazine, but Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring is one of them. Inspired by a piece written by Nancy Jo Sales about the real-life spate of Hollywood burglaries from a few years ago, the film offers a detached view of the teenage perpetrators (known as the Bling Ring) and the motives behind their high-profile hijinks.
It has to be said that, with references to the stars of long-cancelled reality shows and long-forgotten celebrity DUIs, the factual plot of The Bling Ring does feel a little out of date. But although too much time may have passed since the actual events, the culture concerned remains the same. The film is as much about the perils of social media and the allure of celebrity lifestyle as it is about breaking into Paris Hilton’s house and appropriating a few bags of swag. Coppola is not pushing the audience to judge the teens though, in fact she doesn’t seem to be making much of a comment at all; in terms of the Bling Ring’s break-ins, the film offers more of an observation than a verdict.
It seems there is some disagreement over whether or not The Bling Ring is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek satire or an attempt at edgy crime drama and, to some extent, a viewing of the film does not fully answer that question. For a good chunk of it there is an element of pure, unadulterated cringe as we watch the vapid bunch drool over best-dressed lists and relish any and every opportunity to exclaim, “like, oh my God!” But then, just when it seems the film is beyond exoneration, all becomes clear. We are blessed with a reimagining of a post-parole interview with home-schooled and Adderall-stuffed member of the ring, Nicki Moore (Emma Watson), and surely there’s no way this is supposed to be anything but a gentle mockery of the whole fame-fuelled fiasco. From here on, almost all is forgiven and things actually begin to get quite funny.
Granted, it would have made for more comfortable viewing if the comedic elements had been more apparent from the start. And it’s hard to ignore the fact that out of ninety minutes of film, at least twenty appear to be slow motion shots of lip-gloss application and strobe-y dance montages. Yes, it’s possible that loud music and patchy lighting may have been used to disguise some truly lacklustre acting. But despite all of that, somehow The Bling Ring becomes, in a guilty-pleasure sort of way, surprisingly enjoyable.