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)