Lock Up Your Daughters! Part 1: Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring

In her fictionalized account of the teen girls who robbed the homes of Hollywood celebrities, the director offers a portrait of the idle rich without coloring or character

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The first full day of Cannes screenings featured two films — Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring and François Ozon’s Jeune & Jolie — about middle-class teenage girls who chose a life of crime. Our reviews follow.

Sofia Coppola has fashioned a career chronicling the lives of the idle rich. The 2002 Lost in Translation, her most agreeable film, plopped an American movie star (Bill Murray) in a Tokyo hotel, where his anomie was briefly upstaged by a meeting with a restless young wife (Scarlett Johansson). Coppola’s 2010 Somewhere was set in Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont: another disaffected movie actor (Stephen Dorff), another intervention from a young woman, this time his daughter (Elle Fanning). In between came the 2006 Cannes entry, Marie Antoinette, in which Coppola reimagined the teen Queen of France (Kirsten Dunst) as a pampered girl obsessed with her possessions. As I wrote then: “The spirit here is less the divine decadence of Paris, France, than the spoiled shallowness of Paris Hilton.”

(READ: Corliss’s review of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette)

By a coincidence found only in the movies, the hotel heiress and fundamental icon of 21st-century celebrity — she’s famous for being notorious — is the patron saint of The Bling Ring, Coppola’s take on the Calabasas, Cal., high-schoolers who robbed some $3 million from the Hollywood homes of Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson and Audrina Patridge. That some of these glamorati were stars of reality TV was in synch with the blond ambitions of the perps; one of them, Alexis Neiers, had costarred with her mother and sisters in the E! Channel series Pretty Wild. (“Episode One: Alexis’s modeling career is endangered when she is arrested on charges of participating in a burglary ring.”) Neiers’ Wikipedia entry describes her as “a television personality, aspiring model and convicted felon.” I’m guessing she’s equally pleased with all three designations.

In the Coppola version, based on Nancy Jo Sales’ Vanity Fair article on the gang, Rebecca (Katie Chang), a pretty, poised student at Indian Hills High School for troubled teens, befriends Marc (Israel Broussard), a solitary soul who hasn’t yet shucked his baby fat: “I never saw myself as an A-list-looking guy.” As Rebecca cannily raises his abysmal level of self-esteem, Marc accompanies her on night trips through Hollywood, where they find a surprising percentage of posh cars left unlocked and fancy homes unattended, with swag free for the taking. “I’ll bet she leaves her keys under the mat,” Rebecca says of Hilton. Yep.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere)

Because no adolescent can keep a secret, the two are soon joined by Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga) — one the daughter, the other the more-or-less-adopted daughter, of New Age-religion parody Laurie (Leslie Mann) — and by another schoolmate, Chloe (Claire Julien). With Marc, the Internet savant of the group, Googling the travel plans of their victims, the gang sashays into fabulous homes and vast closets, taking what they will: cash, drugs and a a necklace whose jewels spell out the words RICH BITCH. Intoxicated by their adventures, they remain oblivious to the surveillance cameras that a few of the “stars” have installed.

Coppola’s directorial attitude has the uninflected watchfulness of those cameras. In the movie’s coolest shot, one entire heist is seen from a stationary camera on a hill behind and above the house. Kudos to cinematographer Harris Savides, who dreamed up that shot. (Savides died at 55 of brain cancer last October; his colleague Christopher Blauvelt completed the film.) This is Coppola’s first feature on digital, after four features shot on film, and the format suits the girls’ fondness for taking phone photos of their, may we say, booty. Broussard smartly wears the mantle of audience surrogate, and the phalanx of actresses lend a ditzy vitality to their roles — though Harry Potter fans may send a plea to Watson: Go back to Hogwarts.

(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of Spring Breakers)

What The Bling Ring doesn’t reveal is the kids’ reasons for their nervy felonies. “I never like to tell the audience how to feel,” the director says. To how, we may add what or whether. Though the material is sensational, the film is on the blah side. Its obvious evil twin, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, addressed the same girls-run-wild amorality, also without comment but with a hallucinogenic cinematic abandon that made their criminal behavior plausibly attractive, at least to them. Coppola’s stately remove from her characters is different: it puts into question not only their motives but hers. Why’d she bother?