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The Bling Ring

by on May 8, 2012
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For nearly a year, the most high-profile burglaries in Hollywood were committed by a group of middle-class suburban kids. “The Bling Ring”, as they were later dubbed by media, bonded over a love of fashion at a ritzy alternative school just outside Los Angeles.

From 2008 to 2009, the group helped themselves to the clothing and jewelry of Orlando Bloom, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson and Paris Hilton (the latter several times) by finding their addresses online, tracking on Facebook and Twitter when they would be out of town and gaining entry to their residences — often through unlocked doors.

Though they were captured on security cameras at least twice, “The Bling Ring” was able to carry on for so long because its members were young people with no prior criminal records. In other words, they were difficult to trace and who would suspect a bunch of teenagers, anyway?

Nancy Jo Sales’ fascinating 2010 Vanity Fair piece chronicles the many issues behind the nefarious clique, among them drug abuse, misplaced loyalty, false entitlement and the weird culture that prompts kids to want to be celebrities — or just look like them — at any cost. Lifetime’s recent movie adaptation does the very opposite, fictionalizing and whitewashing the facts until it’s just like any other made-for-TV movie, complete with aging starlet (here, Jennifer Grey).

Austin Butler (apparently Chord Overstreet was busy with “Glee”) plays Nick, a former child actor who is put in alternative school due to extreme anxiety. There, he’s befriended by charismatic, well-dressed Natalie (Yin Chang) and a horde of screaming girls who talk like rejects from “The O.C.” Beginning almost as an accident, the group’s robbery spree is soon in full swing, attracting the attention of a grizzled cop (Tom Irwin) who’s not even sure what Facebook is.

As he sinks further into the life of crime, Nick is faced with two foils: an innocent love interest from Oregon who works at a yogurt shop and his mother (Jennifer Grey), who is so blissfully naive one wonders if she procreated her son through immaculate conception.

Lifetime movies are Lifetime movies: out-of-control teens, wronged women and intuitive cops punctuated by awful camerawork and unrealistic dialogue. They are movies best consumed while trying to kick a hangover. Fine.

But what’s disappointing is that the “Bling Ring” story is rife with psychological and cultural issues, not to mention compelling details from the real-life case, that are completely disregarded. Granted, maybe some of these details can’t be used for legal reasons, but it’s never clear how ringleader Natalie so easily coerces Nick into going along with her fiendish plans. Or why Nick’s anxiety attacks subside 15 minutes into the movie. Or why Google is called “Search.”

When the “Bling Ring” stories started circulating online, I followed the drama. After this DVD ended, I Googled (not “Searched”) to see if there were any updates. Apparently Sofia Coppola is directing a big-screen adaptation starring Taissa Farmiga and Emma Watson. I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe next time, “The Bling Ring” will receive the exploration and explanation it deserves.