THE most stunning moment of Sofia Coppola's true-crime social critique The Bling Ring occurs when a pair of blithely larcenous L.A. teens break into the home of Paris Hilton.
Adorned with a monomaniacal gallery of Paris Hilton portraits amid the gaudy frou-frou, the place looks like some sardonic production designer's over-the-top satirizing of the famous-for-being-famous heiress/reality star and her epic self-regard.
Guess what? It really is the home of Paris Hilton, stripper pole and all. Ms. Hilton, evidently not done with being famous, consented for Coppola's crew to film in her home. She even contributes a cameo appearance as one of the celebrity victims of the criminals.
Somehow, it figures.
In other movies based on actual crimes, associations with Hollywood stars pop up on occasion. Recall Martin Sheen in a role inspired by spree killer Charles Starkweather in the movie Badlands, visibly flattered to be told by arresting officers that he looks like James Dean. Remember teen punk Crispin Glover in River's Edge, excited to be covering up for a friend's senseless act of murder with the immortal line: "I feel like Chuck Norris, y'know?"
The Bling Ring is about lesser crimes but with a more salient Hollywood connection. Based on the Vanity Fair article The Suspects Wore Louboutins, it tells the story of a circle of young friends who occasionally engaged in some high-profile burglaries.
It is a loose association, as teen groupings can be. It is initiated by the beautiful Rebecca (Katie Chang), a young woman who kindly befriends the misfit new gay kid in school, Marc (Israel Broussard). But their relationship comes with an unsavoury degree of peer pressure. After a party, Katie likes to cruise the parked cars on the streets looking for an unlocked door and any stray wallets.
The two soon graduate to bigger game. Marc checks online to see if any celebrity is out of town. If so, they both descend on the house, check for any unlocked doors and gain entry to shop for any available jewelry, designer clothing and money. (You might think that's highly unlikely, but celebrity victims included Orlando Bloom, Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson and Megan Fox.)
Soon, the circle of larcenous friends expands to include the reckless Chloe (Claire Julien), a girl who acts like an out-of-control celeb despite her obscurity. Nicki (an unsettlingly ruthless Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga) are non-biological quasi-sisters home-schooled by Nicki's mother (Leslie Mann), whose lesson plan is basically a religious interpretation of the self-help book The Secret.
The great thing about young Sam is that she's small enough to fit through a doggie door.
As a nearly unbelievable story of unlikely criminals, the film might have functioned as kind of toned-down John Waters comedy about fashion-happy idiots on an outlaw spree.
Fortunately, Coppola has a more quietly subversive agenda best exemplified in the scene depicting a discreet invasion of Lindsay Lohan's house. A devout fan of the Mean Girls star, Rebecca splashes herself with drops of LiLo's purloined perfume and her face assumes a look that is positively beatific. This illicit communion with the rich and famous might as well be a holy communion.
Lindsay, an accused thief (like Rebecca) with a DUI conviction (like Chloe), is evidently a role model.
Coppola meticulously creates a world of absent and/or clueless parents, set against a vacant culture where the chief activity is to take pictures of yourself in the newest hot club.
Is there a difference between fame and achievement? Or fame and infamy? Whatever.
If there is a moral lesson to be gleaned here, it's this: No good can come from admiring Paris Hilton.
Given the narcissistic decor of her home, it's a lesson Hilton would do well to heed herself.