Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere

The placidly paced Somewhere is sure to provide plenty of ammunition for Sofia Coppola’s detractors and it’s likely even to try the patience of some of her most ardent fans. Almost aggressive in its languid, observational approach, it never begs for your attention and it doesn’t fall back on the hipster pop soundtrack Coppola has frequently deployed to encourage involvement. It’s familiar Coppola territory – yes, it’s her third film in a row to center on a lost soul wasting away in a hotel or chateau – but it’s been shorn of adornment in favor of a minimalist approach that lets the quiet, simple emotion of the piece seep through. Though it’s thematically similar in many ways to Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette, it’s a less flowery, more honest and more confident film.

Stephen Dorff plays Johnny Marco, a handsome but aimless actor/celebrity lost in the spiritual shallows of Los Angeles. Ensconced within the bubble of Hollywood’s famous (and infamous) Chateau Marmont or jetting from place to place in his sleek black Ferrari or in a chauffeured car, his every physical need is catered to. If he wants food, he orders it. If he wants sex, he chooses from one of any number of women who are drawn to his celebrity or he hires it like delivery Chinese. He’s got a manager to arrange his appointments and see that he’s wherever he needs to be when he needs to be there. Everything is taken care of. It’s sounds nice, but the problem with Johnny is that he’s a fraud and he knows it. His job is pretending to be he’s someone he’s not and there doesn’t seem to be a single honest connection in his life – that is until his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) shows up at the hotel for a visit.

Rather than cramp his style, Cleo is just the nourishment Johnny. It turns out he’s a decent, loving father and he slowly and subtly blooms over the course of the film for as long as Cleo is around. Compare the engagement on his face as he watches his daughter practice her ice-skating to the feigned interest he shows the pair of strippers he continually hires. Somewhere too comes alive in these mundane but lovely moments between father and daughter. Whether it’s a session of Rock Band (or is it Guitar Hero?) on the TV, a night in eating gelato in bed or a flashy trip to Italy to attend an inane awards program in formal dress, the film sparkles with a gentle, playful charm.

The problem is, there isn’t much more to the film and not much else happens. There’s a tiny element of mystery courtesy of a series of anonymous, accusatory texts Johnny receives throughout, but that’s mostly it. Composed of long, static (though beautiful) shots courtesy of cinematographer Harris Savides and a minimum of mostly inconsequential dialogue, Somewhere is a mood piece in the European fashion. How little happens is part of the point.

Many will find Somewhere infuriating, but others will find it strangely fascinating. A little patience and an appreciation for subtle pleasures will separate the former from the latter.

Somewhere. USA 2010. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Cinematography by Harris Savides. Edited by Sarah Flack. Starring Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Chris Pontius, Lala Sloatman and Ellie Kemper. 1 hour 37 minutes. MPAA rated R for sexual content, nudity and language. 4 stars (out of 5)

6 Responses to “Somewhere (2010)”

  1. Yep, I do approach this yet-to-be-seen film with some considerable trepidation in view of my past difficulties with this director. I never could process the exaltation that has been heaped on her widely idolized LOST IN TRANSLATION, and among her other films only her first, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES inspired me to render a moderately favorable reaction. But this humble and beautifully written review examines and acknowledges this dicotemy, and allows for a contrary opinion, disavowing any kind of given quality, fully understanding that beauty is (as always) in the eye of the beholder. That said, every new venture is to be asessed without overriding stipulations, as as I found out with Aronofsky’s latest film, there’s never any certainty to be applied to a director’s work.

    I will see this film as first opportunity, (I’ve seen the trailer) and will hopefully respond more favorably to Ms. Coppola than I have in the past. The support and the generally very strong reviews have been appearing, so it’s clear her pared back style appeals to many.

  2. Somehow I think you’re either really going to go for it or you’re really going to hate it. I don’t think there’s much room for an in between.

    We’ll see though.

    It’s not a movie I’ll prepare to come to blows with anyone over, that’s for sure, though I have to say I read David Denby’s review and that dude should just hang up his typewriter. He’s not even trying.

  3. I liked it, although at times it does test your patience with its subtle narrative and pacing. I’m open to what Coppola is selling though and I agree she is showing a confidence here that was less apparent in her earlier work.

    I kind of took the texts to be messages from Johnny’s conscience. He seems to know he’s wallowing in his own muck, but is disinterested in doing anything about it. Note that the texts stop once he becomes fully committed to Cleo.

  4. The texts are kind of the only element that draws you into the story if you’re not on board with the lead character’s ennui.

    Anyway, I liked it and I think critics would’ve been more receptive if it had been another director, especially a French or Italian one.

  5. Yeah, there certainly appears to be a strong current of resistance to anything she does. If I honestly felt she lacked talent and was getting by specifically on nepotism alone, I guess I could understand that, but I just don’t think that is the case. Her films are thematically and narratively repetitive to a certain extent, but that’s true of numerous filmmakers who otherwise receive no disdain for being so.

    I guess I just don’t get it, but I got this film and I liked it. Too bad it didn’t get a little more respect.

  6. The nepotism thing bugged me in her career… BEFORE I saw Virgin Suicides. Then I had to admit that, in addition to every career advantage, she also had talent, a vision and a voice.

    She swims in familiar waters with each of her films, but yeah, artists work over similar themes ALL THE TIME. The most ignorant and stupid comment I got about Somewhere from a blogger/critic who will remain nameless was that it was basically the same movie as Lost in Translation. Denby made a similar dismissal but that’s fucking ridiculous on its face. talk about not seeing the forest for the trees. Many similarities to be sure, but the differences are too numerous to mention.

    Completely different film.

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