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The Bling Ring

Year: 2013
Production Co: American Zoetrope
Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola/Nancy Jo Sales
Cast: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga, Leslie Mann, Claire Julien

First of all, don't make the mistake I did and watch a 2011 TV movie of the same name. But hang on, I might hear you say, wasn't this sumptuous love letter to privileged Hollywood life from Sofia Coppola out in 2013? Yes – although it was little discussed at the time, the most surprising thing about Coppola's adaptation of Nancy Jo Sales' Vanity Fair article is that it's a remake.

The article was about a gang of teenagers in Los Angeles who stalk their favourite celebrities' movements online and through the news to figure out when they'll be out of town so they can break into their palatial houses overlooking the city to steal their stuff.

With only their names changed, the new kid at school, Marc (Israel Broussard), falls in with queen bee Rebecca (Katie Chang) and feels like he's found a kindred spirit. When a dare at a party leads them to break into the house owned by an acquaintance of Marc's, it puts them on the path that will lead them to infamy.

Rebecca and Marc go shopping with the loot they lift from the house, revelling in the celebrity lifestyle that swirls around them in urban LA but which they've never been part of, feeling like stars themselves.

It soon escalates when the pair go clubbing with other friends from school, Nicki (Emily Watson), Nicki's sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Chloe (Claire Julien). Feeling brazen about their recent exploits, Marc, Rebecca and the others egg each other on to hit a bigger target when they realise one of their idols, Paris Hilton, is away.

They drive excitedly to Hilton's Hollywood Hills pad, find a key under the doormat (of all possible break-in cliches) and help themselves, trying on and stealing Paris' clothes and jewels, playing her music, lounging around in her luxury and feeling on top of the world.

The Bling Ring is born, the group encouraging each other in an ever-growing game of dare. They're soon making a sideline career out of tracking the movements of their favourite celebrities, sneaking into their houses under cover of darkness because of any number of sliding doors left unlocked, fences out of view of security cameras or pet doors they simply climb through, and living the high life on the spoils.

They rob Hilton several times, Audrina Partridge, Megan Fox, Rachel Bilson, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr, taking clothes, jewels, make-up and even a gun during one sting.

But being only joyriding kids they're not as smart as they think they are, and it isn't long before they're identified on security camera footage, news crews (because of how famous the robberies have become) as well as the police turning up on their doorsteps with warrants. Seeing them bought outside their houses in handcuffs looking like young deer caught in headlights after all their bluster is an arresting and effective reminder that they're only children.

But their capture isn't only historical fact, it's the entry point and payoff of one of Coppola's most subtle points. All these kids are from upper class backgrounds, none of them committing burglary for survival or resources but to live the life of the celebrities they're obsessed with. There's a large element of it being a fable about kids bought up with either no guidance or direction, too much or the wrong kind – just look at Leslie Mann as Nicki and Sam's helicopter mother.

But Coppola does an even more interesting thing than comment on the state of Western youth. Most of the movies that deal with this subject would be poking a kind of fun at these aimless teenagers with their celebrity and fashion obsessions, but Coppola comes at it from a different direction.

Along with the rest of her oeuvre, this movie shows how much Coppola loves the fashion, accessories and glamour as much as her characters do. In fact a lot of her back catalogue deals with the same topic – Somewhere was about the emotional emptiness of modern celebrity, Marie Antoinette about celebrity in another age.

It's ostensibly about kids who are so abandoned or smothered by parents they do these things for purpose and attention, but you can imagine how a lot of the appeal for Coppola was because she loves the handbags, necklaces and designer brands as much as they do. She depicts the trappings of wealth and fame with all the breathless reverence of high-end TV commercials about them.

So the themes are strong – it's about fame and riches and how the pursuit of them for their own sake has a dark side that leads the unprepared off the rails, especially those who have no real-world context like the young and rich.

It also has a brilliantly acerbic finish as Nicki gets a weird kind of closure. After they've all been caught and convicted she parleys her notoriety into the kind of fame she was chasing the whole time, starting a blog and recording videos about how she's used the experience to make herself a better person, the kind of boilerplate bullshit her idols constantly peddle while trying to be relatable to fans. It says something cutting and incisive about Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame.

I'm always a fan of Coppola's and this is a further entry into a very talented filmmaker's canon. Marie Antoinette wasn't well reviewed but I thought it was a gorgeous exercise in form with a real sensuality to it and Coppola does the same thing here with the darkened chambers in rich people's houses, the young characters draped with fabric, colours and shiny objects in a way that's almost tactile.

I don't know either of the DPs (Christopher Blauvelt or Harris Savides), but they do a fantastic job of capturing dark, abandoned mansions in the Hollywood Hills with the glittering lights of LA spread below them, as if the kids are being lifted literally into the sky by their ambitions. It's sumptuous, richly layered, has something to say and looks beautiful.

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