The pyramid of celebrity has at least four levels. At the top are mostly actors and musicians, followed by reality television stars who vaguely resemble actors and musicians. Then come the hangers-on striving to reach the upper tiers. At the bottom, of course, are the rest of us.
"The Bling Ring," written and directed by Sofia Coppola, focuses on that third, aspirational layer, which is arguably the most fascinating and certainly the most repellent. It's based on the true story of several L.A. teenagers who repeatedly burgled the homes of their favorite celebrities in an effort to mimic their lavish lifestyles. "The Bling Ring" wants to say something about youth culture, celebrity worship and material greed, but -- much like Harmony Korine's recent "Spring Breakers" -- it would rather mock its protagonists than help us understand them.
They're certainly a mockable bunch. Rebecca (Katie Chang) is the ringleader, a smart and driven Asian who puts a twist on the Tiger Daughter stereotype. Marc (an empathetic Israel Broussard) is her sexually uncertain lap dog. Nicki (Emma Watson, doing a very good valley girl accent) is a home-schooler whose religious mother (Leslie Mann) has taken in a party girl named Sam (Taissa Farmiga, sister of Vera Farmiga). Though "The Bling Ring" is based on the 2010 Vanity Fair article "The Suspects Wore Louboutins," names have been changed and characters altered.
"The Bling Ring" is largely a series of kids-behaving-badly montages -- nightclubs, cocaine, the usual -- though it does let us see the riotous interior of Paris Hilton's actual home. (Hilton, a real-life repeat victim, appears in a cameo, and on several enormous throw pillows emblazoned with her face. It's clever product placement.)
Things finally get interesting when the swag hits the fan, and Nicki -- based on Alexis Neiers, of the E! reality show "Pretty Wild" -- shrewdly jumps into the media fray with sound-bite-ready inanities like, "I think it's my journey to push for peace." She's in yet another tier of the pyramid: the telegenic criminal profiting from her crime.
PLOT A gang of well-off L.A. teens begin robbing their favorite celebrities' homes. Based on a true story.
RATING R (language, drug use)
CAST Emma Watson, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang
BOTTOM LINE Sofia Coppola tackles our national obsession with fame but takes the easy route: lots of sneering and tsk-tsking with little effort at understanding.