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Crime kids served celebrity gods

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The Bling Ring (MA). Director: Sofia Coppola. Starring: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Georgia Rock, Leslie Mann. 90 minutes

I think this situation was attracted into my life because it was supposed to be a huge learning lesson for me to grow and expand as a spiritual human being. I see myself being like an Angelina Jolie, but even stronger, pushing even harder for the universe and for peace and for the health of our planet. God didn't give me these talents and looks to just sit around being a model or being famous. I want to lead a huge charity organisation. I want to lead a country, for all I know.

Vanity, vapidity, denial of responsibility (the situation 'was attracted into my life'), the assumption of a movie star as the ultimate object of emulation — as a thematic précis of Coppola's (Lost In Translation, Marie Antoinette) latest film about young women steeped in the malaise of affluence, the above quote captures it perfectly. The film takes the true story of a group of rich teenagers who burgled a number of celebrities' Hollywood mansions during 2008 and 2009, and turns it into a hilarious and unsettling satire of materialism and celebrity worship.

Drawn from the 2010 Vanity Fair article that inspired the film, the quote is recited with perfectly affected sincerity by Watson. She is the film's most bankable star, but receives only third-billing; a fact that would no doubt irk the woman who originally spoke those words, then 18-year-old Alexis Neiers, whose trial as a member of the 'Bling Ring' was captured in the short-lived reality TV series Wild Teens. Her name has been changed too (to Nicki), as have all the characters' names; perhaps as a tacit rejection by Coppola of the equation of notoriety with celebrity.

These then high school students stole up to $3 million worth of jewellery, clothes, shoes and other items from the homes of celebrities including Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom. They described the process as 'shopping'. Disturbingly for all proponents of privacy, they used simple internet searches to locate the hallowed houses and ascertain when their occupants would be absent. The Bling Ring portrays this pastime as an outcome of a kind of materialistic cult of want, centred on a distinctly American obsession with celebrity.

Coppola depicts these young people as inhabiting a world where meaning and morality have been supplanted absolutely by material longing. It is highly individualistic, and there is a performance element to it — several times we see well-dressed characters seated before webcams, not communicating, simply pouting and posing. They've been conditioned to see the profligate lifestyles of Hilton, Lohan et al. as the ultimate aspiration; they want to hang out in the clubs where they hang out, and wear (in this case, literally) the clothes that they wear.

This is not, of course, solely an American epidemic. But these rich Hollywood kids are at the epicentre. They boast about their exploits at parties, revelling in the reflected fame, as if burgling Paris' house is next to being her BFF. Once the law closes in on them, even loyalty to each other proves fickle in the face of self-interest, yet they remain staunchly deluded by their obsession with fame — Nicki tries to use the controversy to propel her career, while the ringleader, Rebecca (Chang), during her interrogation, is eager to know if 'Lindsay' mentioned her.

Through all of this they show no sympathy for their victims, or even a passing concern for their privacy, a trick they no doubt also learned from the media — the notorious celebrity gossip network TMZ features prominently. Not that the film is interested in bemoaning the exploitation of the filthy rich by the slightly less rich. Far from it, as Coppola has plenty of satirical darts for the celebrities themselves too: the walls and sofas of the mansion owned by Hilton (who, to her credit, agreed to a cameo appearance in the film) are adorned by Hilton's own face.

But it illustrates the extent to which their perception of reality and discernment of right and wrong have been distorted by the celebrity worship that has stood in for a proper moral framework. They are not entirely to blame, either; it's a cultural sickness to which even their parents are not immune. Nicki's mother (Mann) 'home schools' her in the new age philosophy 'The Secret', and it is she who offers up Jolie as a paragon of virtue. She asks which characteristic of Jolie Nicki admires, no doubt alluding to the actress' charity work. 'Her hot bod,' Nicki replies.


Tim Kroenert headshotTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: The Bling Ring, Vanity Fair, Emma Watson, Sofia Coppola, Leslie Mann, Paris Hilton, Kirsten Dunst



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Existing comments

These girls sound a bit like Chris Lilley's Ja'mie. I could watch Ja'mie and enjoy the send-up - this film may take itself a bit too seriously.

Pam | 08 August 2013  

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