July 5, 2013
Based on real-life events recounted by Ms. Nancy Jo Sales in her 2010 Vanity Fair magazine article, "The Bling Ring" is about a group of five high-school students in Los Angeles who thought it was cool to break into houses of celebrities in order to steal their high-end signature clothes, shoes and accessories.
We witness their escapades as the gang raided the closets of Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom and Lindsay Lohan, among the notable names in their hit list, helping themselves to their Channels, Louboutins, and Rolexes. That went on gleefully for them, until the long arm of the law finally caught up with their shenanigans.
Emma Watson (best known as Hermione in the Harry Potter films) is the most famous name in the young cast. However, her character Nicki is ironically NOT the ringleader of the gang. She does have some memorable scenes of her own, mostly with her flaky New Age mother (played by the funny Leslie Mann). Emma's acting as a spoiled, somewhat delusional Valley Girl is so realistically annoying. She did have a brief scene showing us her pole dancing skills.
The real leaders of the gang were Rebecca (Katie Chang) and her new found kindred spirit Marc (Israel Broussard). Rebecca was so cool and nonchalant about her kleptomaniac tendencies borne out of celebrity worship and fashion passion, especially for her idol Lindsay Lohan. Marc was just a new kid in school trying to fit in when he got caught up in Rebecca's naughty games. We do not see much of Rebecca's back story and how she became like this, and that is a pity since she was very much the reason why her friends did these crimes.
My complaint about this movie was that the robbery scenes were basically very repetitive. The first break-into Paris Hilton's house was very interesting and exciting for many of us in the audience who, tough as it may to admit, are also curious about what this heiress got in her walk- in closets. However, with the following ones breaking into Megan Fox's, or Rachel Bilson's or Orlando Bloom's, all the time exclaiming at the various treasures they see, then celebrating their caper at the clubs with their cellphone selfies, drugs and alcohol, it just became tedious already.
At least in the Audina Patridge break-in, Coppola gave us a nice long bird's eye view from afar, watching Rebecca and Marc run around the house. There were also some uncomfortable scenes like Nicki's sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga) playing with a gun in Megan Fox's bedroom, or Chloe's (Claire Julien) car accident when driving drunk, that broke the monotony of the robbery scenes. At the same time, these scenes are consistent in showing the rash idiocy of these vapid youths.
The scenes after the trial were quite meaningful. The scene of Nicki being interviewed for being the cell mate of a notorious celebrity was hilarious. There was also a quiet scene with Marc where it was very scary to imagine what would happen next to him. Count on Sofia Coppola to come up with these open endings (remember "Lost In Translation"?)
Overall, Director Sofia Coppola presents to us a very disturbing cautionary story about teenagers of today. This would be how these young people obsess about the fashion, possessions and lifestyle of various celebrities they see everyday on TV and online. This is celebrity obsession gone wild. 6/10.
After watching the film, I felt compelled to read the book that Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales wrote to expand on her original 2010 article "The Suspects Wore Louboutins" on which the film was based on.
Being a longer account of the crimes, we learn more details about the five members of the Bling Ring here. We realize that Sofia Coppola had actually changed the names of the real perpetrators for their parallel characters in the film.
The real Rebecca is Rachel Lee, a daughter of two well-to-do North Korean immigrants, now separated. Her mother runs Kumon schools in LA and her pony-tailed dad is a businessman in Vegas. She was apparently very shy in real life and was not willing to grant interviews after the arrests. So that explains why the movie did not have much about her and her motivations for the crimes she masterminded.
The real Marc is Nick Prugo. His story is more or less the spine of the movie screenplay, as the details of his life were mostly left as is. He was the one most willing to spill the beans about their crimes, despite (or could it be because of) the advice of his attorney. As presented in the film, he was a friendless new student, transferred to Indian Hills because of frequent absences in his old school. He was really always reluctant and anxious about the crimes, but could not say no to Rachel because he dreaded to lose her friendship which he values. He was outed to be gay later in the book, but this was only suggested in the film.
The real Nicki is Alexis Neiers. She is a self-declared "indigo child", a Valley Girl who lived with and was home-schooled by her New Age mother, Andrea. Alexis had a younger sister Gabrielle, and a "sort of adopted" sister Tess Taylor. Called Sam in the film, Tess is a Playboy Cyber-bunny who was never implicated in any of the cases. Alexis had a media blitz after she was charged, and even had a reality tv series with her sisters. She was really in jail at the same time a celebrity they robbed was, as the film says Nicki was. No wonder Emma Watson wanted to play this quirky role, even if she is not the central character.
The real Chloe is Courtney Ames, an long time friend of Rachel's. It was through Courtney (and her waitressing at various bars) that the Bling Ring got connected to the fence Johnny Ajar, who was her boyfriend, as well another guy, a bouncer named Roy Lopez (could he be Fili-Am since he was supposed to be a member of a so-called "Pinnoy Gang"?). The book interestingly mentioned that Courtney had no sense of smell. Strange detail.
Another gang member named Diana Tamayo, apparently an illegal Mexican migrant, and supposedly a student leader at school and scholar, seemed to have been totally left off by Coppola in her script.
As a whole though, the writing style of the book was rather uneven, just like how a conversation might randomly go from one gossipy detail to another. There are times when you get to the latter half of the book when you will feel that she was already gossiping too much though. The accounts felt very repetitive already, like you've read the same things over and over. I admittedly had some degree of disconnect already when Sales was describing showbiz events that occurred after the year 2000.
Aside from describing the crimes and what items have been stolen, the criminals and their version of what transpired, the celebrity victims and their careers, their lawyers and their eccentricities, etc. in more detail, the book also allowed Nancy Jo to vent about her thoughts regarding the culture of fame and celebrity among impressionable teens of today.
We get a lot of juicy pop culture trivia along the way about various celebrities through the years. We get comparisons of what successful pop music, movies and TV shows before and during the 1980s when celebrities began their brainwashing of the collective mind of the youth. A lot of Gen-X and Gen Y's can find Sales dissertation about the popular culture they grew up very interesting reading. Even if we did not ever reach the levels of sick obsession the Bling Ring did, we all know and recognize who and what she was talking about.