Based on a Vanity Fair article about a group of celeb-obsessed youngsters who ransacked the homes of their heroes, The Bling Ring stylishly depicts a superficial and vacuous teen sub-culture, but fails to delve beneath the surface.
The non-linear structure of Sofia Coppola's movie involves the very early revelation that these hoodlums, led by Katie Chang's sociopath Rebecca, are ultimately caught for their crimes. For those unfamiliar with the outcome of this true tale, this removes much of the plot's dramatic potential.
This wouldn't matter at all if the focus was firmly trained on character and society, giving us an insight into why so many youths are obsessed with the antics and wardrobe of the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. Alas, this isn't the case whatsoever.
Instead, we're forced to witness a repetitive procession of tedious burglaries and clubbing forays in which the gang take drugs, pinch handbags, try on lots of shoes, scream along to monotonous music and snap loads of 'selfies' on their mobile phones. Then, once they're captured, there's an equally repetitive section showing each of their arrests. By this point, there doesn't even remain a Schadenfreude-infused urge for the robbers to receive their comeuppance.
There's no reason to care about their fates, for better or worse, as there's no attempt to explore the motivations of the protagonists beyond a few soundbites far too late in the piece. Instead of giving us a chance to see the inner workings of the group dynamics, or why the initially shy and sensitive gang member Marc (Israel Broussard) allows himself to become so immersed in Rebecca's malevolent machinations, the movie prefers to showcase the mind numbing empty-headed displays of these easy targets again and again.
"Oh my God, there's Paris Hilton!" squeals Marc when he sees the heiress, playing herself, in a nightclub. That's about as incisive as the dialogue manages. While the content is depressingly shallow, the form is conveyed in a luscious and vibrant style by Coppola's roving lens, mirroring the glamorous garments yanked out of various celebrity wardrobes during the narrative. The impressive cast also conveys the pretty vacant nature of their characters well – particularly Emma Watson as the amusingly deluded faux-humanitarian thief Nicki.
The Bling Ring appears totally in tune with the nefarious superficiality of its central characters. It may look aesthetically alluring, much like the Instagram-enhanced pictures the juvenile crooks upload onto their social network feeds throughout the course of the movie, but it's as equally hollow. Maybe that was the purpose – for art to imitate life?
But beyond functioning as a time capsule for its depiction of a worrying trend amongst disaffected teens, it offers little of value to nourish the little grey cells as they wither in the face of a bombardment of imagery revolving around celebrity and materialism.