Saturday 9 April 2011


Out now on DVD and Blu-Ray is Sofia Coppola's ode to celebrity, Somewhere. Watch the trailer and read my review, next...

Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) isn't a happy man. He may be living in the legendary Chateau Marmont in Hollywood and have all the luxuries that his celebrity lifestyle affords him, but he can't help but feel that there should be more to life. When his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) comes to stay with him during the summer, he must tame his bad-boy lifestyle and remember how to act as a father.

I've always had a fondness for Sofia Coppola's work as a director, and will always defend her films to those who consider them a bit... empty. 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, even if it was a case of style over substance. I didn't go expecting a history lesson, nor was I given one. It was fun, beautifully shot and had an excellent soundtrack; the least I could have hoped for from Sofia Coppola. In the intervening four years since Marie Antoinette, Coppola's personal situation has changed dramatically; this is no longer Sofia Coppola as the privileged daughter of a Hollywood icon, this is Sofia Coppola as a parent.

When the trailer for Somewhere first appeared, I, along with many others, was somewhat concerned about its apparent similarities to Coppola's Lost In Translation. Was this tale of a troubled celebrity reconnecting to life with the help of a younger girl just a simple retread of that film's Oscar winning script? Well thankfully 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 wearisome. He arrives home to his hotel room to find parties in full swing, hooking up with girls as a matter of principle but too tired from the routine to bother putting any effort in. For entertainment he hires a pair 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 quite depressing. Luckily for Johnny this routine is halted by the arrival of his young daughter Cleo, played by the darling Elle Fanning. For such a young girl, Cleo has an acceptance of who her father is, aware of what his lifestyle entails. 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 Stephen 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 was in her younger roles, and a delight to watch whenever she's on screen.

The thing that may frustrate audiences about Somewhere is its absence of any traditional 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. People expecting a similar experience to Lost In Translation may feel short changed, but what Somewhere can offer is the first successful family unit of any Sofia Coppola film. Johnny's life is at its least troublesome during the times he gets to spend with his daughter, not by any coincidence the times the film is at its most charming and delightful. Complex and slightly broken it may be, but the relationship and bond between Johnny and Cleo is both tender and funny. 

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 are 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 in the often unsympathetic role of the worn out 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.

This film is awash with visual metaphors, be it the opening shot of Johnny driving circles around a race track (the thrill quickly becoming monotonous), or him slowly suffocating under the weight of the mould of his head that needs to be cast for his movie. Somewhere is a film that may 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.


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