With Somewhere, it appeared that writer/director Sofia Coppola was returning to similar material that had made her masterpiece, Lost in Translation, work so well. Both films are somewhat similar in that they involve a character who seems to be at a loss as to where their life is going, but the main difference is that Coppola couldn’t really figure out just what to do with her characters in Somewhere, so what ends up happening is that the main character’s lack of interest becomes the audience’s burden.
Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is an actor who appears to be bored with life while staying at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Hollywood. His hobbies include driving his car really fast, watching strippers in his hotel room, and attending parties, but none of it appears to excite him in the least. His daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning) occasionally comes to visit him, turning him into a slightly brighter person. All of a sudden, her mother tells Johnny that she is going away for awhile and that he needs to take care of Cleo until she goes off to camp. The rest of the film becomes a kind of exploration of what happens as Johnny and Cleo get the opportunity to spend more time together.
This is a film that I really wanted to like and was looking forward to with great anticipation, but it turned out to be a little disappointing. The material that had worked so brilliantly in Lost in Translation ended up not making a smooth transition to this story. It becomes hard to say that there really even is a story here, which was not concerning at first because, as you may remember, Lost in Translation didn’t really have much of one either.
What appeared to be missing from Somewhere was an overall point. Was Coppola trying to say that even celebrities get bored with their lifestyle sometimes? It’s not hard to imagine that that may happen. Was the focus supposed to be on how Johnny and his daughter were bonding, allowing him to find some focus in his life? There was some bonding in the last 20 or so minutes of the film, but the ending doesn’t really lend much credit to this theory either.
There are several sweet moments in the film such as when Johnny and Cleo go to Italy, or when they are serenaded by a guitarist singing a song by Elvis Presley. However, there are an equal amount of slower moments, some of which are as dull as watching plaster dry (which is actually a scene in the film). Sadly, when all of these moments are combined together, they don’t really add up to much of anything, so it becomes the case that the sweet parts are more than the sum of the whole.
There have been films where it has been necessary to criticize the short length of shots, but in this film, Coppola ends up having the opposite problem. There are multiple scenes where she doesn’t realize that the shot is going on for far too long. The opening scene is a great example of this. The film opens with Johnny driving his car around in circles on the same stretch of road for the first few minutes of the film. Then there are the two separate stripper performances which feel like they go on for just as long. Another trip through the editing room could have done wonders for the film’s pacing.
Though the film is somewhat lacking in substance, it is quite beautiful looking. Some of the sets and locations go a long way toward putting you right into the celebrity lifestyle that Johnny endures day after day. It just becomes a shame that there wasn’t more to it. After awhile, it just starts to feel like Dorff is going through the motions with his character, which is well illustrated by the multiple scenes of his agent calling him up and telling him what he has to do that day, whether it’s a press junket or flying to Italy to accept an award.
The film ends up needing more emphasis on the relationship between father and daughter as this seems like the most prominent reason the film was made. That being said, the “fed up with celebrity life” theory could fit right into that. The most interesting parts of the film are when Johnny is sparked back to life from his depressed state with the presence of his daughter, but everything appears to go back to the status quo in the end, so perhaps he didn’t even realize how important his daughter’s presence was.
The ending is a bit muddled and you’ll be wondering why certain things are happening, but chances are, as much as I hate to say it, you’ll probably have forgotten the film within a week. It’s the kind of light-hearted, but fleeting, type of film that isn’t bad, just not all that memorable. Perhaps if Coppola had taken a little more time to develop her character’s situation further and put more substance into the film, then things might have been different. Without these additions, the extended scenes and lack of focus merely end up causing Somewhere to go nowhere. 2.5/4 stars.
Now playing in limited release.
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