After a debuting in New York and L.A., Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring hits theaters nationwide on Friday: The movie—about a gang of dopey and desperately vapid debutantes who stole about $3 million in clothes and jewelery from Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and other Hollywood types—stars Emma Watson as the frighteningly dead-eyed Nicki, a fictional version of real-life celebutante Alexis Neiers. While Emma does a great job of dead-panning at the camera, Neiers’ real life is probably more interesting than anything the movie can offer.
Originally an under-age party girl with overprotective (but completely clueless) parentals, Neiers started down a dark road as a small-time video vixen and model. Along with adopted sis Tess, Alexis caught the eye of E! executives and embarked on one of the most surreal reality shows in television history: Pretty Wild (catch up on Netflix). The show explored the day-to-day lives of these home-schooled honeys, along with their youngest sister and their bizarre saucer-eyed mother, Andrea Arlington.
Mama Arlington is a a devout believer in American spiritualism (The Secret is her Bible) and feeds her brats Adderall like its candy.
The show took a turn for the bizarre in the very first episode, when Alexis is arrested for her presumed involvement in the Hollywood Burglaries.
Pretty Wild yielded some amazing moments (some obviously staged, some obviously not), often revolving around the girls’ clueless histrionics.
Perhaps the most famous moment of the show occurs when a Vanity Fair article about the crime spree (“The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales) incorrectly asserts that Alexis wore six-inch designer heels to court. Alexis, mid-breakdown, attempts to call the interviewer and correct the mistake:
Many scenes of Pretty Wild are re-created verbatim in The Bling Ring. Somehow this imminently gif-able scene was left out of Coppola’s film.
Ultimately, what appears to be a run-of-the-mill quest for fame on the part of two attention-deficient girls belies a much darker story: Not only was Alexis jailed for her involvement with the Bling Ring, she was fairly deep into drugs (black tar heroin, Oxy, Xanax) and had a history of childhood trauma. A re-watch of Pretty Wild suggests that those corpse-blank stares into the camera were really calls for help from a troubled teen—and that the show itself was less a vehicle for achieving stardom than a means for Alexis to fund her next fix.
Originally Alexis denied her involvement with the Bling Ring (“I have receipts for everything,” she explained in the Vanity Fair article), and Pretty Wild presented her addiction a small subplot covering just half of a single episode.
Nowadays, though, Alexis admits everything quite candidly. She served her time in jail, ironically, next to Lindsay Lohan, one of the celebrities she stole from, and whom she heard crying in the neighboring cell. ”Of course [Lindsay] was crying in jail,” Alexis told Vice “she’s in fucking jail.”
More recently, Neiers has taken on the role of married mom and distanced herself from her debauched sis. Still a spiritualist at heart, and firmly believing this experience happened to teach her a lesson, she hopes to work as an activist and drug-addiction specialist, often listing Dr. Drew as one of her idols.
Of her detractors, Alexis says, quite profoundly, “everything they claim we are, they are. Everybody wants to be famous.” So what can we learn from Alexis Neiers? Coppola’s movie insinuates that her vapidity is part of a greater epidemic of celebrity obsession that morally bankrupts our children. Pretty Wild itself is a bizarre experiment in post-modern media, and it seems that if a girl who is famous for stealing from celebrities can get her own reality TV show (and then a movie based on that TV show), then fame has finally finished eating its own tail.
Of course rumors of a tell-all book are floating around the Internet, but this reformed queen might be better suited as the subject of a new reality show, riding on Bling Ring’s coattails. Wouldn’t you watch Celebrity Rehab 2.0 starring Dr. Alexis? (Let’s just hope they keep her away from the phones.)