Details: (M), 98 mins, In Cinemas 26 December 2010, United States, English
Synopsis: You have probably seen him in the tabloids; Johnny (Stephen Dorff) is living at the legendary Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood. He has a Ferrari to drive around in, and a constant stream of girls and pills to stay in with. Comfortably numbed, Johnny drifts along. Then, his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) from his failed marriage arrives unexpectedly at the Chateau. Their encounters encourage Johnny to face up to where he is in life and confront the question that we all must: which path in life will you take?
Writing what she knows pays dividends for Coppola.
Sofia Coppola captures the small moments of paternal love in her understated, elegant fourth feature, Somewhere.
The director’s preference for mood over plot injects new life into the familiar tale of estrangement between a wayward father (Stephen Dorff) and his wise-beyond-her-years tween daughter (Elle Fanning). Long takes (cigarettes get smoked to the stub; songs play through til fade), sparse dialogue and natural performances from the two excellent leads, accumulate to give Somewhere’s best moments an entirely observational quality.
The Venice winner is a return to form for the director, whose Marie Antoinette was an indulgence of indulgence, with its story of rich party girls cooped up in a 14th century French palace. Criticism of that film was especially voracious and gave renewed vigour to Coppola’s detractors, who have always accused her of tunnel vision, and of having a morbid fascination with the preoccupied whims of the entitled.
This time around, she writes what she knows; as famous offspring of Hollywood royalty, she sets her film in the world of A-list actor, Johnny Marco (Dorff), a long-term resident of the infamous Hollywood haven, The Chateau Marmont.
Opening with a noisy throbbing Ferrari doing endless laps of a partially-obscured racetrack, Coppola lets the fixed camera linger beyond the limits of a natural edit point, to belabour the point of a beautiful thing going nowhere, fast.
A key player in the field of nonsensical but wildly successful action movies with names like ‘Berlin Agenda’, Johnny is stalked by paparazzi and mollycoddled by publicists as he fulfils his contractual obligations for film promotion. Overstimulated to the point of listlessness, he nods off during personal pole dances, and receives random, abusive SMS messages from unknown numbers (is it from one scorned conquest or many? Who knows, and who cares? He takes the profanity-laden texts with the same distracted bemusement he greets most of life’s developments, good or bad).
Into his world of readymade wish-fulfilment comes Cleo (Fanning), his 11 year-old daughter from a long-dissolved marriage. The two have a playful relationship, but it seems mostly confined to afternoons spent hanging out at the Chateau, or playing ‘spot-the-paparazzo’, in the aforementioned Ferrari.
When her mother needs some ‘me’ time to cope with an unexplained crisis, Cleo is shunted to Johnny’s for an extended stay, and the two share a conspiratorial cosiness as they embark on a surreal Italian junket, and bring a touch of domesticity to a Hollywood haunt with a reputation for precisely the opposite.
Coppola resists playing out obvious aspects of the ‘Deadbeat Dad’ angle – the most she allows is when Fanning gives glare (better than actresses thrice her age) at the presence of an unexplained third party at the breakfast table. Similarly, she turns the volume way down from the amped up excess of Marie Antoinette – and its too-cool post-punk soundtrack. Songs don’t ‘kick in’ with Somewhere – music is mostly incidental and tracks are used sparingly (such as when Gwen Stefani’s ‘Cool’ pumps out of an empty ice skating rink as Johnny’s attentions are turned to the quiet grace and beauty of the 11 year-old daughter he scarcely knows).
To elaborate would be to prescribe superfluous meaning to the film and its scenes since, for the bulk of the film’s 97 minutes, Coppola keeps her touch light and avoids heavy directorial gear changes. Disappointingly, she abandons this approach in the film’s closing moments (perhaps out of a desire to take the film, well, somewhere, before the end credits?). The abrupt plot development feels forced, and flies in the face of the laidback nature of things that have gone before.
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