Sofia Coppola is our foremost cinematic interpreter of emotional dislocation and moral blankness. Her characters typically exist in a bubble, where obsessions rule their lives and all behavioral consequences are suspended.
This has become increasingly apparent, first with her breakout 2003 film “Lost in Translation,” where cultural dislocation in a luxury hotel led to emotional ennui, and then with the carefully observed unnatural environments of her subsequent films, “Marie Antoinette” and “Somewhere.”
Her new film, “The Bling Ring,” extends these acute observations into the present-day youth culture obsessed with celebrity and fashion.
Ostensibly, the “true life” account of a group of teenagers who burglarized celebrity homes in Southern California a few years ago, the fictionalized movie delivers a devastating portrait of the narcissistic age of Facebook.
The teens in her movie, living in satellite communities in the San Fernando Valley, are tethered to social media but otherwise drift in a morally vacuous realm of distorted or false values.
What begins as a lark becomes a creepy game plan that somehow makes these youths feel connected to their rich and famous role models over the hill.
After tracking their targets’ whereabouts online, they break into shockingly insecure hillside homes and make off with just enough designer clothes and jewels so as not to be immediately missed by their victims.
In this way, the gang, eventually tagged the Bling Ring by the media, rips-off such celebs as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge, Megan Fox and Orlando Bloom.
Based on Nancy Jo Sales’ March 2010 Vanity Fair article, “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” and the transcripts of the author’s interviews, Coppola’s screenplay zeros in on a Southern California lifestyle that swirls around Hollywood night life, audacious behavior, drugs and celebrity.
Almost as if they were reality show contestants, the gang slips by unlocked doors, invades the celebs’ walk-in closets to “shop” — “Sweet,” they exclaim as each new goodie turns up — then brags about these exploits later that night or models stolen fashions on Facebook posts.
There is little sense, as far as the teens are concerned, that any crime is involved. Parents are marginalized — or shown briefly in devastatingly satirical portraits of cluelessness — and school is a social obligation easily skipped.
The ringleader is Rebecca (Katie Chang), fearless in the break-ins and heartlessly manipulative of the ring’s male member, Mark (Israel Broussard), who is uncommonly knowledgeable about women’s fashion and insecure about his looks. While never identified as gay, Mark does see Rebecca as a “best friend” and not a romantic partner.
Emma Watson is material girl Nicki who views fashion as the road to social success. (“Everyone loved us because we had such beautiful, gorgeous things.”) Taissa Farmiga plays Sam, a wild child and Nicki adopted sister, who goes along with everything and then develops a fascination with a stolen firearm.
Claire Juien’s party-girl Chloe is a minor member of the gang but does add a seductive air to this runway-ready ensemble.
There is, of course, an unstated subtext here involving the celebrities themselves. So naively unguarded with keys under a matt and sliding glass doors always unlocked, their domains are monuments to their entitled selves.
The carelessness of their lifestyles and near religious belief in material possessions are what fuel the Bling Ring’s own passions.
(Even more astounding is the fact that Paris Hilton actually opened the doors to her burgled Mulholland Estates home including its “nightclub room” with framed magazine covers of herself to Coppola, thus participating in her own portrait in blithe entitlement.)
Coppola’s film, of course, works on two levels. It ruthlessly scrutinizes a pathological youth culture even as it, in its own way, bathes in its obsessions with luxury hand bags, shoes and designer labels. There is nearly as much fashion sense in this movie as “The Devil Wears Prada.”
I don’t think for a minute that Coppola isn’t aware that many will see this movie for the “wrong” reason. As the wardrobes empty out, more than a few audience members may also squeal “Sweet!”
The Bling Ring became minor celebrities for the crime spree. They now have their own followers and this movie can only perpetuate such misguided values. The movie acknowledges this toward the end as its celebrity criminals give interviews and go on chat shows to articulate their new goals now that lessons have been “learned.”
“The Bling Ring” ends with a head shake: Has anyone here really learned anything?
The superbly shot digital film, which turns the hills of Beverly and Hollywood and the valleys of the privileged suburbs into a dreamlike haze, marks the final film of top cinematographer Harris Savides.
He passed on during shooting so his longtime operator Christopher Blauvelt finished the film in fine style. Coppola dedicates the film to him.
Opens: June 14, 2013 (A24)
Production: American Zoetrope, Nala Films
Cast: Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien,
Georgia Rock, Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, Gavin Rossdale Director/screenwriter: Sofia Coppola
Based on a Vanity Fair article by: Nancy Jo Sales
Producers: Roman Coppola, Sofia Coppola, Youree Henley
Executive producers: Emilio Diez Barroso, Darlene Cammano Loquet, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Rassam, Fred Roos, Mike Zakin
Directors of photography: Harris Savides, Christopher Blauvelt
Production designer: Anne Ross
Music: Bran Reitzell, Daniel Lopatin
Costume designer: Stacey Battat
Editor: Sarah Flack
Rated R, 91 minutes