Last month, Slate.com reported that the NSA surveillance scandal inspired a 5,000 percent jump in online sales of the George Orwell novel “1984,” which depicts a ubiquitously monitoring dystopian state. In other news, your friend just tweeted about his recreational drug use and your little sister’s booty drop video on YouTube just got 5,000 hits. Welcome to the future, where Big Brother goes by the name Facebook, Instagram and … oh, I guess “Big Brother.”
For the characters in “The Bling Ring,” a crime caper dramedy based on a true story about a crew of entitled West Hollywood teens living off the pseudo-celebrities they idolize, social media are more than just outlets for bragging about being young, rich and depraved; theyre the key elements of a three-part system for committing robberies. It’s actually quite enlightening. One: they look up celebrity home addresses on a pay website, complete with aerial and street views; two: between TMZ, E! and their social media accounts, these same celebrities announce to the world each time they’re out of town shooting a movie or guest DJing a Vegas nightclub; and three: A-listers don’t seem to like activating their home security systems, or even locking their doors.
I guess there’s a number four as well, but in a world of excess it seems hardly worth mentioning — movie and reality TV stars have so much cash, jewelry and designer clothing lying around that a $30,000 boost barely registers as pilfering.
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola and based on an article in Vanity Fair, “The Bling Ring” is an audacious look at the nadir of celebrity worship. These kids aren’t robbing because they need the stuff; it’s safe to assume that if they asked Mommy or Daddy for a pair of $1,300 Louboutins or a $2,500 Marc Jacobs handbag, they’d probably supply it. No, they do it because they feel they deserve to be famous too, which, enragingly, most of them achieved after their year-long spree. Hey look: they got a movie made about their exploits, and one of the key players even got a reality show out of it.
However, there’s a sociopathic aspect to the robberies which Coppola fails to plumb. Much as Buffalo Bill constructed his skin suit from the flesh of his victims and wore it to feel like a woman, so do these teens don the vests, skirts and high heels of “fashion icons” (as one character calls them) Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom and Lindsay Lohan. (Jesus, how did Lindsay Lohan become a fashion icon?) It’s all played matter-of-factly, but there’s an inherent creepiness to the home invasions that’s never activated, especially when guns and drugs come into play.
Social outcast Marc (Israel Broussard) is our window into this world. Shortly after switching to a new school, he’s taken in by a clique led by the reckless Rebecca (Katie Chang), and as his friendship with her grows, she leads him into a series of increasingly daring — and almost too easy — B&E jobs. However, neither succeed in truly owning the movie. Rebecca, specifically, seems purposely underwritten to give her character more mystery; instead, it comes across as shallow or, worse, just plain crazy. Marc, meanwhile, just seems like a patsy.
The surprise stand-outs are the wacky mother-and-daughter team played by Emma Watson (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Leslie Mann (“This is 40”), who hilariously home schools three girls using “The Secret,” the scammy 2007 self-help book that uses vision boards to achieve success. As the shit inevitably hits the fan and cops and cameras begin to swarm the house, both effortlessly switch into PR spin mode, no doubt gleaned from hours of Kardashians and “Jersey Shore” marathons. Who says you can’t learn anything from reality TV?