It must be tough, being "average" and "middle class" and living within sniffing distance of L.A.'s rich and beautiful people. The designer clothes, the pricey homes, flashy cars and flashier jewelry must seem within reach, especially to the young and avaricious.
That's the temptation of "The Bling Ring," Sofia Coppola's scintillating follow-up to the sleep-inducing "Somewhere." Coppola's film, based on a Vanity Fair article about the crimes, the criminals and the world they ran in, is a winking condemnation of a generation of naive, covetous privacy-abandoning teens and their victims, celebrities so vapid they leaves doors unlocked, so vulnerable in an age where the Internet tracks their every out-of-town trip, every red carpet appearance.
Because if there's one thing these dizzy L.A. larcenists have a handle on, it's social media. They don't wear gloves, don't rush through the houses they enter and pilfer, don't realize that the gate camera (which they walk toward backwards, wearing hoodies, so that their faces are hidden) isn't the only camera in a multimillion-dollar hillside Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom or Lindsay Lohan abode. But they can track their prey online and put photos of their haul on Facebook.
Becca (Katie Chang) worships Lohan and a few other staples of "Access Hollywood" and "TMZ." She links up with the new kid in her Calabasas high school, Marc (Israel Broussard), because of his fashion sense. He's gay. And when she says "Let's check some cars" after hitting a party, he's down for anything pulling on car doors, seeing what can be snatched from a vehicle that isn't locked.
Chloe (Claire Julien) is Becca's blond bombshell pal, also down for anything. Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga) are the rest of this pot-smoking, Kanye- and M.I.A.-listening posse. They discover that the celebrities they long to emulate are as careless about locking their doors as "The Bling Ring," as the media came to call the group, is about hiding its activities.
As with her best films, Coppola is utterly at ease in this milieu, and it shows. We're allowed to giggle at Nicki and Sam's (all names were changed) insipid self-help home-schooling mom (Leslie Mann, on the nose) and her "teaching," inspired by "The Secret."
The homes of the rich are often expensively tacky. The girls all have that mousy-sexy Kardashian growl and a thorough knowledge of high-end brands Chanel, Rolex, Louboutin, Herve Leger.
All it takes is a text "Let's go to Paris" and they're off, "shopping" at the Hilton home, or Megan or Lindsey or Audrina's house.
The performances capture the utter amorality of it all, with Harry Potter's pal Watson scoring with her dizzy rationalizations of her crimes "Karma cleanses my journey" Broussard's ease at showing Marc's increasing comfort in his sexuality and Chang's unflinching turn as the fearless, reckless and unfeeling Becca.
They're an amusingly hateful bunch, their sole redeeming quality being the real and really gauche people they're robbing many of them glimpsed in TV news coverage edited into the fray.
If Audrina ("The Hills") Patridge was their inspiration, showing a lifestyle achieved by virtue of looks, shamelessness and a willingness to abandon privacy and "sell" anything, why should anyone be surprised that the ring's imitation of that life went this far?
And if a Kardashian and a Hilton can become paragons of style by virtue of a sex tape, why not those who ransack the Hollywood Hills homes of L.A.'s rich and beautiful?
After they're all out of jail, of course.
THE BLING RING
Three 1/2 stars
Cast: Emma Watson, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Leslie Mann
Director: Sofia Coppola
Rated R (teen drug and alcohol use, and for language including some brief sexual references)