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posted: 6/20/2013 6:00 AM

'Bling' rings with adolescent fantasies of fame, fortune

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  • Winnetka native Katie Chang stars with Israel Broussard in Sofia Coppola's fact-based drama "The Bling Ring."

    Winnetka native Katie Chang stars with Israel Broussard in Sofia Coppola's fact-based drama "The Bling Ring."

  • Video: "The Bling Ring" trailer


Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring," inspired by a Vanity Fair article, tells the story of foolish, materialistic teen narcissists who prey upon foolish, materialistic adult narcissists.

Curiously, Coppola's fact-based teen crime drama steps back from any easy critical conclusions about the superficial, values-challenged characters it examines.

This creates both fascinating ambivalence and sheer frustration for us as "The Bling Ring" chronicles the exploits of Southern California girls who just want to have fun.

And celebrityhood.

And jewelry and money and Porsches and Jimmy Choos and Angelina Jolie's "hot bod."

We enter this world of aching adolescent wish fulfillment through a troubled teenager named Marc, played with empathetic detachment by Israel Broussard.

A new arrival at a San Fernando Valley high school, Marc falls in with charismatically blasé Bling ringleader Rebecca (Winnetka native Katie Chang in an impressively assured movie debut), a middle-class teen obsessed with the rich and famous.

So obsessed that she and Marc break into Paris Hilton's mansion one night while she's out partying. The teens don't just grab some expensive stuff and dash off. They hang out for awhile, luxuriate in Hilton's heavenly harbor of hedonistic material wealth, adorned with many portraits of the celebrity famous for being famous.

Soon, Rebecca and Marc lead a gang of like-minded teens on home raids of area celebrities dumb enough to publicly announce when they won't be home, then conveniently leave windows, doors and doggy entrances unlocked for easy access. These include tabloid magnet Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Orlando Bloom, Audrina Patridge and several others. (Hilton, for the record, allowed Coppola to shoot her segments at the actual scene of the crimes.)

Did the celebrities think they didn't need to protect their homes? Did they not care?

The other question raised by "The Bling Ring" is, did the teens think they wouldn't be caught? They leave fingerprints everywhere, never check for security cameras (yep, they exist) or anticipate they might trigger silent alarms. (Alarmingly, they never do.)

Coppola brings out a complicitous, conniving camaraderie between the Blingers, among them the sociopathic Nicki (Emma Watson, hot off from the comedy "This is the End"), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Chloe (Claire Julien).

These kids come off as just that, kids. You know, unformed adolescents pursuing the gleaming, surface things that they deem important, such as the social status bequeathed upon ordinary people by wealth and fame.

Apathetic and/or incompetent parents fare far worse in the cinematic court of public opinion. The strangest of these is Nicki's home schooling mom, played with comic restraint by Leslie Mann. Spouting New Ageist generalities, she remains clueless to her own parental responsibilities and to her daughter's dark, nocturnal activities.

Coppola, who previously fascinated over the issues of wealth, prestige and social status in "Marie Antoinette" (starring Kirsten Dunst), allows "The Bling Ring" to wander into repetition the longer it runs.

Coppola's screenplay also utilizes unnecessary but dramatically easy first-person narrations by the characters to explain and justify their actions to unknown, off-screen authorities during what we assume to be interrogations.

Marc, our reluctant point man of this expedition into superficial happiness, offers feelings of ugliness and awkwardness as his reasons for bling cling. That's his excuse.

A captured Nicki makes an attempt to be contrite by saying, "This situation is a huge learning lesson for me ... I want to lead a country one day for all I know."

At times like this, "The Bling Ring" hardly needs to draw its own conclusions.

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