Movies about celebrity almost always come off as trite or self-indulgent. The idea of a bunch of celebrities gathering together to make a film about how hard it is to be a celebrity just seems altogether disingenuous. However, when someone like Sofia Coppola tackles the issue, the resulting film is an original work that covers larger, more existential themes. My review of Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere after the jump.
Somewhere tells the story of Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a bad boy actor who’s not exactly Brad Pitt-level famous, but still gets recognized pretty much everywhere he goes. Marco is staying at the infamous Chauteau Marmont in LA, filling his days with impromptu get-togethers and nightly private dancing sessions. We immediately understand that Marco isn’t necessarily happy; he merely exists. He talks shop with fellow actors at the hotel, but there’s nary an ounce of substance in anything that’s said. His handlers call him in the morning when it’s time for him to go to a junket, and he’s dragged through the day like a child following his mother while she does errands: he asks no questions, does what he’s told, and is waited on hand-and-foot. He is content.
We soon meet Marco’s 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning). Cleo’s mother is going away for a while, and needs Johnny to watch her for a few days before she heads off to camp. We understand that the two are friendly, but it’s obvious they’ve never really been close. Johnny takes her to her figure skating lesson, after which he muses that he didn’t know she could skate. Cleo responds that she’s been taking lessons for years.
As Johnny and Cleo spend their days together, the two become more comfortable around each other. He has to trek to Italy to do press for his latest film, and he brings Cleo along. Finally, he has a companion worth spending time with.
In many ways, Somewhere works as a companion piece to Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Both films explore similar themes of loneliness, human interaction, and fish-out-of-water situations (Johnny and Cleo in Italy). From the opening shot of Somewhere, a car continuously driving around in circles on a secluded desert road, we already understand a great deal about Johnny Marco. He lacks a sense of self. We see him at a party filled with people, but he’s so obviously uncomfortable and disinterested that he takes pills in order to feel any sense of joy or pleasure.
Once Cleo comes into his life for an extended period of time, Marco now has to deal with issues of fatherhood. Has he every really been a father to his daughter? We get the impression that the answer is “no.” The two don’t dislike each other, and Cleo even seems fairly elated to see him, but he’s much more the “fun uncle” type than a fully-fledged father figure.
Coppola takes her time in telling the story, and Somewhere’s biggest strength is also its worst fault. At times the film is brilliant, giving the characters plenty of room to breathe and exist. But oftentimes Coppola’s long, drawn-out shots seem overly self-indulgent. It begins to feel pretentious and one can’t help but feel like she’s already done this before (and better) with Lost in Translation.
The only special feature on the disc is a short “Making of” documentary. It’s not a terrible short, and it has some interesting interviews with the cast onset talking about the project, as well as interviews with Coppola herself.
My grade: C+