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bling-ring-emma-watson-600x350-03The release this year of two very different kinds of movies, “The Bling Ring” and “InAPPropriate Comedy,” brings us to a place where disposable culture—reality shows and infomercials—are becoming a force on the big screen.

The former, directed by Sophia Coppola, features two characters inspired by people from E!’s reality series “Pretty Wild,” while the latter was directed by the “ShamWow!” Guy. One transcends its inspiration, one does not.

Based on actual events, “The Bling Ring” centers around a group of narcissistic Los Angeles area teenagers, Rebecca (Katie Chang), Marc (Israel Broussard), Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Fermiga) and Chloe (Claire Julien).

Their modus operandi? They track the comings and goings of their favorite celebs on via internet. While one-named millennial stars like Paris, Lindsay, Megan or Audrina are out on the town or out of town completely, the Ring “go shopping,” breaking into their homes and help themselves to jewels, designer clothes and loose cash. More than that, they live vicariously through the lives of the rich and famous folks they’re burgling.

“The Bling Ring” plays like a “Law & Order” episode of “The Hills.” The crime spree is device that keeps the story moving forward, but the fascinating thing is the portrait of these self-absorbed kids who aspire to hosting reality shows or becoming a “lifestyle brand” as a career. They want fame and money, but are so tied up with the idea of fame and money they are blind to virtually everything else.

Emma Watson sheds Hermione once and for all in a performance that nails the vapidity that made the robberies possible. Dead eyed, with a bored infliction on every word she mispronounces, her take on Nicki shows there’s more to her than being the wizard’s sidekick.

Also strong is Katie Chang as Rebecca, the gang’s ringleader. She’s so obsessed with the lifestyle of the rich and famous when a detective tells her that he spoke to one of the robbery targets, instead of feigning contrition her eyes light up. “What did Lindsay say?” she asks,  thrilled that Lohan might know who she is, and who knows? Maybe they’ll become friends.

Director Sophia Coppola is an observer here, choosing not comment on the proceedings, but to allow the story to speak for itself. Instead of delving into the reasons these kids behave the way they do, or satirizing the lifestyle–apparently Paris Hilton really does have pillows embossed with her face, so I guess there really isn’t much here to satirize–she keeps her distance and allows the empty characters and their vacuous behavior resonate.

“The Bling Ring” is a fascinating art-house glimpse of fame found, just not the fame the thieving teens sought. They are the robbers TMZ made famous, a group of kids who redefined narcissism in an already narcissistic town.

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