"The Bling Ring," Sofia Coppola's witty and arresting fifth feature, is a true-life drama of American youth culture gone mad. Based on a Vanity Fair article, the film tells the story of a pack of Los Angeles teenagers, four girls and one boy, who in 2008 began to break into the homes of their celebrity idols, people like Lindsay Lohan and Rachel Bilson, all to steal their clothes, shoes and jewelry.
We see them troll the Web to find out which stars are going to be out of town, and they then sneak in easily, climbing over security fences. Once inside, what they're basically doing is shopping. They rifle through designer dresses, find roomfuls of necklaces and handbags and finally get to Valhalla when they reach the sacred chamber where Paris Hilton keeps her shoes.
The characters in "The Bling Ring" are presented as a new species of mutant. They care about nothing -- literally nothing -- but fashion, celebrity gossip, consumer goods and the way these things mash together to a grinding hip-hop party beat.
But where a lesser filmmaker might have turned the members of "The Bling Ring" into warped rebels, Coppola sees that they are acting out a sociopathic version of the obsessions that now rule far too many of us. The clever beauty of "The Bling Ring" is its scandalous yet never mocking tone, its refusal to satirize.
For a while, the girls' personalities seem almost interchangeable, but that's part of the movie's texture. Katie Chang gives the leader a ripe synthetic glow and Emma Watson does a remarkable job of demonstrating that glassy-eyed insensitivity doesn't have to be stupid.
In the end, of course, the members of "The Bling Ring" did get caught, which finally made them, too, celebrities of a sort. The movie is a comic tribute to how cheap our 15 minutes of fame has become.