Netflix’s ‘The Real Bling Ring’ Spotlights the Teens Who Stole Paris Hilton and Hollywood’s Elite
Few shows have made Hollywood and its fame-hungry residents more pitiful, shameful, and utterly crass than The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist, a three-part Netflix case (September 21) about the group of LA teenagers who committed a series of robberies, including, among others, the homes of celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom and Lindsay Lohan—mid-to-late 2000s. Inspired by interviews with two of the gang’s leading members, director Miles Blayden-Ryall’s docuseries chronicles how a burgeoning reality-centric pop culture and media boom social media helped create a collection of attention-hungry kids who believed the world was theirs, and this scandal was a surefire way to fame. Which he was, in a sense, a notion underscored by the fact that they are now the headliners of their own Netflix project.
The non-fiction version of the tale that Sofia Coppola dramatized with the years 2013 The bling ring, The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist is run by Nick Prugo, who as a high school student began stealing luxury vehicles in and around Los Angeles with his friend Rachel Lee. By this point, Nick had already had a handful of TV jobs, but as he says, what he loved most about the industry was less the acting profession and more the gear that came with it. His illicit pastime with Rachel was therefore intensely satisfying, allowing him to pass himself off as a rich and stylish person of interest. Given that this was the fledgling era of Hilton, Kim Kardashian, The Osbournes and TMZ-enabled Instagram stardom based not on talent but rather on glamour, wealth, excess and notoriety, Nick was convinced he was as cut out for fame as anyone else.
Having been allowed virtual entry into the homes and lives of these 21st century tastemakers (via Cradles and Perez Hilton’s tabloid site), Nick felt he had every right to literally break into their homes, which he soon began doing with Rachel. At the same time, he befriended Alexis Neiers (now Alexis Haines), who, along with his sister Gabrielle and best friend/adoptive sister Tess, were groomed for reality TV stardom by their mother. Andrea, who stands out in The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist as a showbiz momager from hell. A former pin-up girl who confesses to smoking weed with her daughters (to court their acceptance) and promotes her The secret– an inspired philosophy that goals manifest through positive thinking – a sentiment with which she has indoctrinated her children via daily mantras about thriving in the entertainment business – Andrea comes across as a joyful madwoman who raised Alexis to she values fame above all else. It was a shallow strategy that worked, clan a net E ! show their life (rather wild) produced by Amber Mazzola and Gennifer Gardiner.
As she tried to launch her career on the small screen, Alexis was also reaping the rewards of Nick and Rachel’s illegal labor, and she eventually agreed to join them (and accomplice Diana Tamayo) when they robbed Bloom’s house. $550,000 in valuables. The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist features conflicting and ridiculously self-serving versions of this Nick and Alexis event, but the truth isn’t hard to determine. These two teenagers, and their cohorts, were wild, party-loving, drug-addicted kids who yearned so badly to be like their We Weekly idols that they had no qualms about sneaking into their mansions, picking up and carrying their belongings, and embracing the infamy that followed – so much so that Alexis’ own pursuit became not just a storyline for rather wildthe first and only season of, but the real narrative hook that Mazzola and Gardiner had coveted as a way to justify the whole enterprise.
The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist is a classic example of the snake eating its own tail, with young men and women doing whatever it takes to fulfill their paparazzi dreams, then becoming famous for those same actions. Nick is open and candid about his ambitions and the low self-esteem that spawned them, while Alexis is much more defensive about his drive and the motivations behind it. In either case, however, it’s clear that a life spent in a Hollywood bubble has cultivated in them an instinctive desire to be in the limelight as well as its designer shoes, handbags and jewelry. In short, they come across as meaningless, materialistic, and amoral, willing to indulge in any behavior that might serve their purposes, and Nick’s frankness and Alexis’ distrust play like two sides of the same coin: continue calculated efforts to manicure their public image for personal gain.
“In short, they come across as meaningless, materialistic and amoral, ready to indulge in any behavior that might serve their purposes…”
Later revelations that Alexis’ defense attorney, Jeffrey Rubenstein, participated in hypocritical scripted scenes of rather wildthat LAPD Detective Brett Goodkin consulted on Coppola The bling ringand that Nick chose a lawyer based on his looks and his sons rather than his credentials (oops!) only amplifies The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heistthe portrait of Angelenos absurdly obsessed with fame. While not a shock, it’s nonetheless italicized by Blayden-Ryall’s docuseries, which itself is torn between censorship and celebration of its subjects, portraying them as greedy con artists while telling simultaneously their story with the kind of glitzy, watch-me flair (gaudy dramatic recreations, dazzling effects, Nick’s groundbreaking fourth narration) is precisely what they craved in the first place. It’s a two-way approach that’s less complicated than messy, though it does allow Nick to figuratively hang himself with each gleeful admission of the remorseless excitement he felt during his break-in escapades. .
The emptiness of this world of showbiz and the people it produces was glaring in the heyday of Lohan, Hilton and their clubbing cronies, and The Real Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist revisits it with conscientious precision in case of lack of insight. Likewise, the role of technology in fostering this modern celebrity culture, as well as facilitating the crimes of Nick and company, proves another unenlightening facet of this saga, the ultimate conclusion of which seems to be that the Bling Ring frenzy was a byproduct of a particular moment in time that, depressingly, doesn’t really seem to have gotten past us just yet.