Sofia Coppola poses at the premiere of The Bling Ring in Los Angeles, California on June 4, 2013. (REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)
The Bling Ring, which opened wide in the United States over the weekend, is like most of Sofia Coppola’s other films: occasionally beautiful, freighted with never-quite-articulated existential angst and absolutely unsure of what it has to say. For an hour and thirty minutes, we are treated to the story of a group of teenagers from the LA suburbs who decide to rob a bunch of celebrity houses, get to do this quite a lot before they are arrested, and… that’s it. It’s not so much that one expected a moral treatise from this but that the movie’s refusal to comment on what it’s depicting makes it look asleep at the wheel.
The trouble with identifying the problem has been a theme of the press on the Bling Ring generally. Vanity Fair’s Nancy Jo Sales reported out the story; her fascinating book of the same title arrived last month. But even she is at a loss to venture a strong analysis of the phenomenon. The book is filled with half-musings: “I was surprised, as I started talking to people about this story by how many seemed to find what the Bling Ring did amusing or even kind of marvelous,” Sales writes. “It made me wonder if there was some kind of growing resentment toward the rich (a precursor to Occupy Wall Street sentiment?).” It’s hard not to throw the book down at faux-naïve moments like those, because yes, of course there is. Sales understands this, of course—her book quotes, in quick succession, both Michael Lewis and Glenn Greenwald—so her posturing grates, a bit.
Class is important here, but not in the usual way. It’s just as hard to style these young women (and one young man) as Robin Hoods as it is to feel sympathy for their victims. The Bling Ring stole from the rich and gave to themselves. And they hardly lacked for material necessities to begin with. Yet I don’t know that they acted quite out of the investment-banking-inspired plutocratic greed that Sales, and to an extent Coppola, suggest. These kids are, at best, a faint reflection of Gordon Gekko. What seems more likely to me is that these kids were bored, and this was a way of filling up an empty night. “Bling” just happened to be the solution they chose instead of the multiplex.
Giving it more reason than that would miss the point, somehow, to me. The crimes are remarkable not because they are particularly horrible but because they were committed with an extreme indifference. Disconnection is the dominant theme. Even when the kids speak in clichés—the trailer’s central joke is Emma Watson earnestly saying, “I may want to lead a country someday,” something her alter ego, Alexis Neiers, did actually say—they are, it feels like, trying on another outfit, committed to the theater of meaning rather than the experience of it. It is this same curious and apathetic ethos that informs shows like The Hills or Teen Mom or even Keeping Up with the Kardashians. And it all goes beyond mere bad acting, as you’d see if you watched the shows. They plod along like narcotics, and not the fun ones either.