Monday, July 1, 2013

The Bling Ring: L.A. Zeitgeist Heist

The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola
Oscar Wilde once described fox hunting as, “The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.”  The Bling Ring is a small but fascinating movie that depicts the amoral in pursuit of the superficial.  Based on a real-life case and an article by Nancy Jo Sales (The Suspects Wore Louboutins) in Vanity Fair magazine, it follows a group of Los Angeles teenagers who realize that (1) celebrities post their whereabouts on the Internet and (2) it’s pretty easy to get into their houses when they are away.  

Silly, bored, clueless and unscrupulous (a toxic combination), these four girls and a boy start at the entry level. During a party, two of them break into cars parked along the street with doors unlocked and valuables left inside.  It’s just a lark to them and they lift anything they find, treating money and credit cards like candy on Halloween.  They move up to burgling the home of the boy’s friend and, after that, graduate to the Big Time: celebrity homes.  That’s when the other three join in the fun. 

These kids know their consumer goods, recognizing the valuable stuff on sight.  What they lift:  Christian Louboutin shoes ($700 to $6000 a pair), Rolex watches ($5,000 to $35,000), Birkin handbags ($200 to $10,000), any accessories by Chanel, D&G, or other high-end designers, jewelry, sunglasses, money, drugs.  And, in one particularly scary scene, a loaded handgun.

The Bling Ring, Emma Watson
In the Closet:
Trying on the Goods
It amazed me that people in L.A. leave their car doors unlocked and their homes unsecured, despite the truly astonishing quantity of valuables they contain.  Who does this?  I lock my car when only my gym bag is inside.  Paris Hilton left her house key under the mat and her house is a shrine to jaw-dropping mindless consumerism. She allowed Director Sofia Coppola to shoot inside her house so we get to see the valuables first hand: her shoe closet alone would have made Imelda Marcos drool.  

Just as L.A. celebrities appear to lack common sense, the teens are devoid of morals or ethics in any form.  They are seemingly untutored in concepts of right and wrong, from the Ten Commandments and to the penal code of the State of California.  Their position is that their rich victims have more than they need and, therefore, can afford to lose whatever the gang chooses to take.  After a while, of course, they steal more than they “need” and start selling the excess goods on the street and even fencing watches like junior cat burglars.  

These teens also lack parental influence or even adult presence in their lives, self-awareness, any interest in education or books, attention to school or homework, spiritual knowledge, life goals beyond immediate amusement, or empathy for their victims.  Mom is homeschooling two of the girls, using a curriculum based on The Secret, a pop-spiritualist self-help book . Most astonishing is their unawareness of the seriousness of their actions.  

The Bling Ring, Lindsay Lohan
Fun & Games at Lindsay Lohan's
In a country where almost anyone who watches TV can recite the Miranda warning, it’s hard to believe that the Gang of Five is oblivious to the fact that they are committing real crimes: breaking and entering, grand larceny (goods worth over $3 million), and grand theft auto.  It’s all just a fun and games.  With one exception, they are shocked (shocked!) when the police show up at their door.  Even then, they seem to think that, because they were having fun the police are being, like, totally outrageous by arresting them.  In pressing charges, their celebrity victims show they have no sense of humor. 

The movie uses flash-forwards to show them gulling the adults who interact with them by spewing the words and phrases they know the adults want to hear. Best of all, the posse pastes pictures of their crimes on Facebook.  Because, like, why would the police look there?

In a way, it’s difficult to watch The Bling Ring because it doesn’t offer the viewer a single likable character.  The kids are vacuous and feral, their parents are either nitwits or absent, the celebrities are invisible and the security firms take a long time to catch on.  About halfway through, I started hoping the cops would be waiting at the bottom of the driveway as we watch the kids' escape from Orlando Bloom’s house through the lens of a security camera.  I wanted them to be caught as much to wake them up as to punish them.

Unfortunately that doesn’t happen.  After one of the girls, Nicki (Emma Watson), is released from jail and Ms. Sales arrives from Vanity Fair to interview her, Nicki is treated as a celebrity even by her mother.  Unfazed by the fact that her daughter is a convicted felon--and that this is a bad thing--mom just wants in on the interview, interrupting continuously while Nicki slaps her down to keep the spotlight on herself.  

The Bling Ring is a fascinating study of the L.A, teen culture and it was a pleasant break from movies packed with superheroes, super-violence, gun worship, exploding helicopters, and mass destruction.  Before you go, though, remember to lock your door. 

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