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Movie Review: The Bling Ring

Vanity gets its close-up in ‘Bling Ring’ (Our grade: B)
The Bling Ring
Running Time: 90 min
MPAA rating: R
Release Date: 2013-06-14
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By "Charles Ealy"
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman

Celebrity! Obsessions! Social media! The love of expensive things!

Sounds like a tabloid description of the Cannes Film Festival. But it’s also the subject of Sofia Coppola’s latest, “The Bling Ring.”

Based on a true story about a group of affluent teens who targeted celebrity houses for robberies, “The Bling Ring” takes us into the real home of one of the victims — Paris Hilton. And it’s a sight to behold. Hilton, who agreed to let Coppola use her home as one of the sets, has huge closets with tons of shoes and designer dresses. And everything inside the mansion is an homage to none other than herself. Even her pillows have her image emblazoned on them.

Katie Chang stars as Rebecca, the ring leader of the teen criminals who eventually target Hilton’s home. With her best friend Mark (Israel Broussard) and other pals including one played by Emma Watson of “Harry Potter” fame, they use the Internet to keep track of when various celebrities leave town. And then they use the Internet to get those addresses and break in.

The idea? All of these teenagers are obsessed with celebrity as well as with the bling of the wealthy. So if Paris Hilton has designer clothes, then they want them, too. So why not just take them from Hilton?

The heart of the movie lies with Mark, an initially shy young man who is befriended by Rebecca. He’s stunned that she’s such a brazen thief. But then he realizes that she’s getting away with it, and he really wants some new clothes, and a lot of bling, too.

So away they go to the Hollywood Hills.

He and the rest of the gang often spend their evenings at a nightclub where they post Facebook photos that show them wearing their latest acquisitions. They even attend the same clubs that Hilton frequents, while wearing her clothes. Pretty brazen.

All of it comes crashing down, of course, and this is clear at the beginning of the film, which features scenes of the teens after they’ve been arrested.

Coppola says she became interested in making “The Bling Ring” after reading a Nancy Jo Sales article about the teens in Vanity Fair. In Cannes, where the movie opened the festival’s Un Certain Regard sidebar, Coppola said that the whole affair had a very contemporary feel, especially since all of the kids who were involved in the thefts grew up with being inundated by social media and reality TV. In essence, they were trying to be the stars of their own lives, completely in the moment, regardless of consequences.

Coppola acknowledged that she walked a fine line, not wanting to glorify the behavior of the teens but not wanting to be sternly judgmental about them either.

That’s why she tried to stress the loneliness and vulnerability of Mark throughout the movie, she said.

Coppola was peppered in Cannes with questions about whether the movie was meant to portray American culture at large, whether it was representative of an entire generation, whether it was an indictment of L.A.

Predictably, Coppola said no to each question, stressing that these kids grew up in very particular circumstances and took an unusual route to getting what they wanted. Yes, the dangers of social media are highlighted, especially when you’re posting photos of things that you have stolen. And yes, the dangers of being incredibly stupid are obvious. But “The Bling Ring” is about a peculiarly L.A. moment, where celebrity worship gets way out of hand.

Coppola uses an incredible hip-hop soundtrack throughout “The Bling Ring,” and each choice seems entirely appropriate to the scene. It’s also fun to watch Watson try to be an L.A. bad girl. She has the acting chops to go way beyond being one of Harry Potter’s best friends.

(Most of this review was initially posted online at austin360.com during the Cannes Film Festival.)

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June 20, 2013 - Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman - Charles Ealy

Celebrity! Obsessions! Social media! The love of expensive things!

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