Sophia Coppola is a hotly debated director and I’m usually her biggest champion. While I didn’t particularly enjoy Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette are a favorite…which seems to be the director’s problem. For it seems that when Ms. Coppola has source material, like a novel, her movies soar…but when she’s allowed to work from her own ideas the movies are plodding and pretentious messes. Her latest film, appropriately titled Somewhere, could also be called Nowhere as the movie has no structure and no heart. Coppola’s quirky style gives way to a minimalist homage that never pans out.
Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a Hollywood actor, living out of the famed Chateau Marmont hotel, who can’t seem to get happy. Sure he’s got a successful career and a doting daughter named Cleo (Elle Fanning) but something is missing. The movie seeks to explore Johnny’s world and the mindless series of nothing’s that fill up his existence. When Cleo’s mother decides to go away for a while Johnny seems not just a chance to reconnect with his daughter, but a chance to find what he’s been looking for.
The themes of alienation, isolation, and the shallowness of Hollywood are all wonderfully applied to Somewhere. Johnny Marco is essentially what actresses like Lindsay Lohan were like before falling into the abyss. Marco fills his time watching strippers and going from A to B in order to promote a movie while waiting for the next thing to pop up. His life has no progression or motivation other than waiting for the next project, or the other shoe to drop. It almost seems like you’re waiting for the man to break and it’s sad that Coppola doesn’t go deeper into that by showing Marco at his lowest point. Instead the movie takes a sharp divergence into focusing on a father/daughter relationship which is cute, but not nearly what’s expected.
Considering the lack of script the cast works well. Dorff could have made this his comeback had the movie not been so dull and pointless but he IS Johnny Marco in a lot of ways. Dorff makes the man likeable but also shows the monotony of his life as he can’t enjoy two beautiful girls cavorting on a stripper pole alongside seeing his child. Elle Fanning is the true revelation in the movie as the precocious Cleo. Cleo is every child that grows up in Hollywood and the irony is Fanning has been in the same position. She plays Cleo as just a little wiser than her years but not a child-woman. She scoffs at how her father’s ditzy Italian girlfriend tries to be her friend, but enjoys quietly sitting in the corner playing Sudoku. She spends the majority of the time playing alongside Chris Pontius character Sammy, a character that seems to have no connection to anyone, where she seems like the only actor trying to be natural. Had the movie followed Cleo it would have worked better.
Sadly, Coppola lets her ego get the better of her with a pretentious story about depression in Hollywood. Yes I understand she’s trying to hearken back to Fellini and the Modernist style of films….doesn’t mean I liked it. The problem is it’s really hard to understand why Marco is depressed when he’s a successful Hollywood actor. We constantly hear he’s not feeling things but he enjoys his child, gets to go to beautiful places and doesn’t seem to have any financial worries or otherwise so where’s the depression? The only thing you come to understand is he’s a typical Hollywood actor who feels he doesn’t have enough. The plot tries to be even more “arty” with random hate-filled text messages Marco gets from an unknown number. This device is dropped halfway through the movie and only seems to have the audience’s thoughts on Johnny being a jerk presented on-screen. The movie never goes anywhere and it’s emphasized with the constant circle imagery of cars on a track, walking down endless hallways, etc. Yes Sophia we know his life is confined but your movie is also on a track, a downward spiral of boring!
In the end I had high hopes for Somewhere that were dashed. Coppola needs to stick to adapting books or other material because her own ideas are plodding, boring and were done better in the 60’s. Somewhere is a disappointment but the young Elle Fanning makes it tolerable with a character that should have been the center of the film.