The opening credits conclude with Coppola placing her “Directed By” credit alongside a garish teenage trinket bearing the title “Rich Bitch” which is essentially Sofia giving the middle finger, painted and manicured, to all her “privilege” crying critics. And not a moment too soon, I might add. One particular Bling Ring break-in of some tripped-up, wide-open, glass-paneled celebrity home in the Hollywood Hills is filmed in a breathtaking single shot from afar, sans sound, the camera pushing in at approximately the rate of a graceful tortoise. It is the film – beautiful and hollowed out at once. Yet it is not quite as much the film as another shot, another shot that captures both the tenor and the theme of the film.
In 2004 you may recall the impeccable Nicole Kidman starred in a 180 second short film helmed by her Australian cohort Baz Luhrmann, all in the name of Chanel No. 5 Perfume. Its galloping storyline featured Ms. Kidman as a Kidman-esque star choosing to flee the trappings of celebrity, indulging in the requisite love affair and then, finally, returning to her star’s life and reveling in the scent of her beloved Coco Chanel. In this case, Chanel was meant to symbolize the pinnacle of celebrity, summiting the peak of fame not with bottled oxygen but with a miniscule vial of decadent fragrance. You might smell good, it suggests, but you will never smell as good as a famous person.
The idol of the ringleader of our bling-obsessed bandits, Rebecca (Katie Chang), is Lindsay Lohan, whose house they have just broken into. LiLo is her idol, however, not for her acting or her prima donna nature – no, she is her idol simply on account of style. In other words, it is not about who Lohan is or what Lohan does, it is about what clothes Lohan wears and what brands Lohan hawks and in what perfume Lohan douses herself. Thus, when Rebecca finds herself all alone in the bedroom of her idol and discovers her perfume of choice on an extravagant nightstand, she picks it up as if it were Coronado’s Cross and sprays a few droplets on her neck.
And you can see the droplets expand on her skin, like the liquid metal of the T1000 after an impervious gunshot wound, and the image, the lighting, the music, improbably render this moment as breathtaking as it is ridiculous. Rebecca is moved - well, as much as her icy coolness can be moved.
"The Bling Ring" will be and has been subject to criticisms not necessarily of the characters' shallowness, though that has been mentioned, but of the fact the film chooses not to more deeply probe the characters' psyche and backstory - that there is not more of them for us to see - and that the actresses and actors are too often blank slates.
But, to borrow a shopworn phrase, what we see, more than ever before, is what we get. The characters of "The Bling Ring" are entirely, explicitly surface level. By showing us nothing beyond the exterior, it brilliantly illustrates that, in their respective minds, it's what's on the outside that counts.
In this moment, Rebecca has doused herself in the scent of Lohan. She may have smelled impressively aromatic before, but now she smells of celebrity. She has summited the peak. For some people the ultimate pilgrimage is 29,029 feet to the top of Chomolungma, for others it is to Lindsay Lohan's house.