Monday 13 December 2010


Out now in cinemas is Sofia Coppola's new film, Somewhere. Read my review, next.

Arriving on our screens four years after Marie Antoinette, Somewhere introduces us to playboy actor Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff). Living in the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, Johnny must reacquaint himself with his daughter when she comes to stay for a while.

I've always had a fondness for Sofia Coppola's work as a director. The Virgin Suicides impressed me stylistically and Lost In Translation was Bill Murray at his miserable best. I even had an appreciation for the much maligned Marie Antoinette. It was definitely a case of style over substance, but I didn't go expecting a history lesson, nor was I given one. It was fun, beautifully shot and had a kick-ass soundtrack, and that was the least I could hope for.

Somewhere has seemed like a curious project since the first trailer appeared. In many ways it appeared to be just a short step away from Lost In Translation, and I was worried that this story was going to be a simple retread of that film's Oscar winning script. Well it's not, though the two films are spiritual cousins at least. Whereas Lost In Translation showed us a beleaguered older comic, tired of living life on the road and looking for a sense of familiarity on the other side of the globe, Somewhere's Johnny Marco is a younger star, enjoying the opportunities and perks that befall a movie star, albeit drenched with a feeling of malaise.

Johnny clearly appreciates the attention he receives from the ladies, though the bed hopping has started to become tiresome. He arrives home to his hotel room to find parties in full swing, hooking up with girls as a matter of principle. The first time this changes is on the arrival of Johnny's young daughter Cleo, played by the darling Elle Fanning. For such a young girl, Cleo has an acceptance of who her father is, aware that he enjoys his lifestyle and surroundings. She has learnt to cook and care for her father, and is the one stable thing around him.

Elle Fanning is extremely sweet in this film, and it's her father/daughter scenes with Dorff that are the obvious highlight. Early on in the film Johnny takes Cleo to her ice skating lesson, and when she hits the ice all pretense of movie stardom is gone when he looks on at her simply as a proud father. Elle may be the younger sister of Dakota Fanning, but she's never as precocious here as Dakota appeared in her younger roles.

Johnny has quite a complex relationship with women. As mentioned, his conquests are numerous, but he's not so hot with the after care. His phone constantly bleeps with text messages from an unknown number calling him an asshole, and Johnny can only shrug them off as they could be from anyone. For entertainment he hires a duo of pole dancers who may as well call themselves the 'Sexy Robot Twins'. They dance for Johnny in synchronicity, but there's a coldness and mechanical distance from the girls as they slide around their metal poles that makes the whole experience really depressing. Cleo's mother makes a brief appearance whilst dropping her off at the hotel, but soon disappears for the rest of the film, forcing Johnny to catch up on his share of the parenting.

What this film really lacks is any sort of narrative. This is a snapshot of Johnny's life when it has no structure or plan, so brief meandering, dialogue free scenes of Johnny living in the hotel comprise most of the first half of the film. The Chateau Marmont is his halfway house; he just happened to move in and stay for a while. Much like his Ferrari, Johnny's suffering from a lack of drive, and the film's plot follows the same course.

At times this lack of structure borders on the frustrating, and people expecting a similar experience to Lost In Translation may feel short changed. What Somewhere can offer is the first successful family unit of any Sofia Coppola film. Complex and slightly broken it may be, but the friendship and bond between Johnny and Cleo is both tender and funny. This film is awash with visual metaphors, be it the opening shot of Johnny driving circles around a race track (the thrill becomes monotonous), or him slowly suffocating under the weight of the mould of his head that needs to be cast for his movie.

As you'd expect from a Sofia Coppola film, the soundtrack is of a high standard (this time provided by her husband's band, Phoenix) and full of indie credibility. The performances were strong, particularly the young Elle Fanning in a star making role. Cleo's an independent and determined young girl (like many of Coppola's female leads are), but would just like her father to be around more often.

As for Stephen Dorff, he's perfectly fine as the worn our movie star. I would imagine he can draw from his own experiences somewhat, although I could read parallels with other high profile movie stars, in particular Heath Ledger. The Chateau Marmont building itself is steeped in history, and provides an interesting backdrop to Johnny Marco's story. It's certainly not a film about the hotel, but its standing as a place of limbo for burnt out celebrities adds a subtext to Johnny's residency.

Somewhere is a film that will annoy some with its lack of structure, but there's lots to enjoy here. Lost In Translation it is not, but it offers us an insiders look at Hollywood, and a sweet family bond almost buried under the weight of stardom.



  1. Great review, even if your words seem to indicate a rating less than 4/5. I'd comment that the lack of narrative drive, as you say, is intentional, indicating as it does the circular, cyclic nature of Johnny's existence.

  2. Oh, I agree. The pacing of the narrative is wholly intentional, but I can see that people could start to find it uncomfortably slow and therefore jump to the conclusion that it is boring.

    Which it isn't in my opinion. Perhaps I didn't offer enough praise for this film, but it may make it into my end of year best list. Can't wait to see what Sofia Coppola does next.