Try as we might, even the proudly tabloid-resistant among us can get sucked into the vortex of navel-gazing inanity that is the contemporary celebrity game, as “chronicled” by the tabs daring us to avoid their gaze in the checkout stands or those “brave” guerilla journalists keeping up the good fight at TMZ. It’s a guilty pleasure and a modern-day freak show available to all, and we marvel at the exploits of talent-challenged stars like Paris Hilton, the Kardashians, and whoever else is in the celebrity crosshairs these days.
On some level, however marginal, we are guilty of the same gawk factor at the heart of Sofia Coppola’s perversely fascinating but ultimately limp film The Bling Ring, about the real-life case of Calabasas teens who took to breaking and entering the homes of rich, famous, and fatuous celebs like Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Yes, these non-famous folks (non-famous until they got caught, and written up in Vanity Fair, that is) stole and rummaged through the abodes of the lofty ones, but the deeper allure was the radiant glow of their fame-kissed lives, once-removed. In this retelling, the cast is blissfully peopled by as-yet-unfamiliar young actors, but anchored by sturdy turns from Emma Watson and Leslie Mann, who plays an airy spiritualist mom who worships at the feet of “good celebrities” like Angelina Jolie.
Something is amiss here, though. We might have hoped against hope that a director like Coppola, with insight and a sense of personal artistry, might have broken through with some atmospheric and ambivalent perspective on the fame game. But no. She manages the delicate feat of observing and relishing the criminal doings, as we trace and even half-root for the dare-addictive exploits of this teen burglar bunch.
At its best, The Bling Ring offers up hints of the special Coppola cine-ambience embodied in Virgin Suicides (another lost, wayward teen number), Lost in Translation, and her wonderful, existential show-biz dirge Somewhere. In the end, though, The Bling Ring descends into a surprisingly bland “crime doesn’t pay” wrap-up mode, which keeps this nasty little rogue’s tale in moral order but leaves us feeling dully multiplexed.