It only takes about three minutes for a character in The Bling Ring to invoke The Hills. Smoking weed on the beach with that kind of self-conscious, cultivated boredom unique to medium-rich kids in macrame vests, Rebecca drones: "I just have to graduate so I can go to the Fashion Institute of Design. It's where all the Hills girls went." Oh, lordy. Of course she wants to follow the Hills girls on their weird, shambling shortcut to fame. Of course she wants to pursue fashion not for the sake of making things but to make herself into a magnet for the fashionable. Of course she confuses visibility with significance. The Bling Ring is all about shortcuts.
In case you're not familiar with the backstory, Sofia Coppola's film is based on a spate of high-profile burglaries that took place in Los Angeles between October of 2008 and August of 2009. (The names and certain specifics are changed, and the characters troublingly whitewashed, but the overall arc is identical.) Victims included Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Paris Hilton, and The Hills's very own Audrina Patridge. The mysterious culprits lifted more than $3 million in furs and rubies and Louboutins and pills and scepters and goblets and opals and Arkenstones and Balmain bandage dresses from the homes of various celebs—and THEN blew everyone's mind by turning out to be a bunch of snot-nosed high schoolers instead of reluctant hobbits or slender Frenchmen in Zorro masks and catsuits blacker than the night. Just kids. And they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for the fact that kids are fucking dumb as nuts. (I've never burgled professionally, but I feel like "don't brag to 200 teenagers about your perfect crime" and "don't post Facebook pics of yourself in Paris Hilton's boudoir" have to be in the top two Perfect Criming Don'ts. Ding-dongs.)
Marc is the new dude at school, eager to carve out a place for himself and settle in. He's immediately befriended by the aforementioned Rebecca, a razor-jawed queen bee who divides her time between stealing cocaine out of parked cars, staring at photos of Lindsay Lohan like a rabid hound, and just generally being a sociopathic ice sculpture. Rounding out Marc and Rebecca's merry band of misfit dicks is Evil Hermione; a blonde girl named Chloe who is the least worst; and a fifth girl who is utterly unmemorable until about an hour in, when suddenly she cracks like a whip and turns Bling Ring into a horror film for ten agonizing minutes. Oh and also sometimes Gavin Rossdale is there, still having that haircut.
One afternoon, Rebecca has an epiphany: When celebrities go out of town, you can go to their houses, poop in their toilets, and take their diamonds. You can find out when celebrities are out of town because there's an entire industry (called "the internet") devoted to tracking the precise movements of celebrities at all times, and, apparently, no celebrities ever lock the back door by the pool! Perfect crime! Once the kids start slipping through sliding glass doors and returning to their suburban McMansions with fistfuls of Orlando Bloom's Rolexes, they cannot stop. Their motivations differ—Evil Hermione wants luxury, Marc wants acceptance, Rebecca wants to get in close and wear celebrity like a skin-suit—but they're all instantly addicted.
Inside Lohan's palatial closet, Rebecca stares at herself in the mirror, haughty and entitled and draped in Lohan's jewelry. Every cell in her body radiates: "I deserve this. This is mine. I matter." That's the misconception at the crux of the Bling Ring. You can make yourself famous—the Bling Ring kids are undeniably famous now. But shortcuts aren't real. Real magic isn't real. The Secret (around which Evil Hermione's mom has based and entire home-schooling curriculum) isn't real. Touching Lindsay Lohan's stuff doesn't make you Lindsay Lohan, pantomiming importance doesn't make you important, and you don't get to just skip to the end and matter without going through the long, grueling steps that make a person actually matter. Sure, show business traffics in artifice, and smoke and mirrors can make an Audrina Patridge, but the fact is that you can't steal genuine significance.
In a police interrogation room, Rebecca asks, "Did you speak to any of the victims?" For a split second you anticipate—finally—that you might hear some empathy from this sharp, icy diamond child. And then, of course, it's, "What did Lindsay say?" About me. What did Lindsay say about me. At the time, in fact, Lindsay was locked up for her own crimes—her own shortcuts, her own entitlement, her own glamorous invincibility. Just another rich kid who feels above the law because she's not the "kind of person" (i.e. poor/brown) who generally experiences consequences in our country. Sigh. One exhausting thing about The Bling Ring—there's almost no one to root for.
But exhausting or not, The Bling Ring might be the most perfect encapsulation of baseless entitlement and blind privilege since The Hills. (I genuinely like The Hills, for the record. But it's more of a thought experiment about polished nothingness than a purposeful piece of art.) And while I certainly don't think stories about mostly rich, mostly white kids ought to dominate our culture anygoddamnfuckingmore, I do think that indictments of celebrity worship and the aggressive dismantling of privilege have an increasingly important role to play. And Sofia Coppola (herself a richer rich kid than any of the Bling Ringers) can mock the shit out of some privilege.