Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Release Review: Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, 2010)

Examining many of the same themes as her transcendental 2003 classic, Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola's latest film Somewhere unfortunately can't quite recapture the same idiosyncratic humor of the empty and alienating celebrity life, nor does it leave the audience with the same emotional fulfillment of watching the characters become spiritually awakened as a result of their experiences. Still, Somewhere remains a poignant and touching experience from a talented filmmaker, who possesses such skill in revealing so much about her characters purely through quiet observation.

Winner of The Golden Lion at the 2010 Venice International Film Festival, Somewhere stars Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning. Dorff plays Johnny Marco, a newly famous but already emotionally disillusioned Hollywood film star who resides at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. Marco spends most of the film reluctantly attending promotional obligations and media engagements for the release of his newest feature film.

These obligations are scheduled by his overly enthusiastic publicist and include a photo shoot with his co-star Michelle Monaghan, an interview with the press, and a publicity trip to Italy where he attends an award ceremony. After injuring his arm at a party, we are thrust into his daily life as he recuperates and tends to his daily business. Despite his immense wealth and professional success, Johnny is clearly suffering from an existential crisis as he drifts through his daily life with little enthusiasm or emotion.

He lives with his goofy friend Sammy (Chris Pontius) and passes the time by partying and drinking heavily, driving his Ferrari fast and sleeping with lots of women. The only shining light in his otherwise cloudy existence are the visits of his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning). The two share a cute relationship, and she clearly adores him. When Cleo's mother suffers an emotional breakdown and needs to leave town, Elle stays with Johnny and becomes the centre of his lifestyle. Johnny takes Elle to ice skating practice, they hang around the Chateau and she accompanies him to Italy for the ceremony. When Elle leaves for camp some days later, Johnny finds that his view of his own existence has been altered, and he seeks a new lifestyle. 

Somewhere is purposely laboriously paced allowing the audience to become immersed in the characters and observe their subtle intricacies. While we are supposed to feel an emotional connection to Johnny it is not meant to feel like we are watching a piece of fiction, but an abnormal analysis of fame. The camera is right there in his room observing Johnny as he completes mundane tasks and partakes in ephemeral pleasures and through a series of concise episodes, which usually involve lengthy takes, we are slowly revealed to who this guy really his. We discover not only how we feel about him, but also how he feels about himself, which is actually quite sad. Somewhere explores Johnny's seclusion and depression, and his inability to feel pleasure, which is accentuated by the two sequences where twin pole dancers perform in his room. The first time they perform he falls asleep and the second time he just stares in amusement. He sleeps with lots of women without emotion and cares little about his image, often strutting around in crinkled plain t-shirts and large untied boots. He views himself as nothing; a man with wealth and fame, but a guy that essentially 'got lucky' and now has no idea what to do with himself. The extended time with his daughter changes his heart.

Sofia Coppola does quite a remarkable job making us care for such a dissolute movie star. While the scenes of Johnny's bemusement at the press junkets and the natural idle chatter between Johnny and Cleo are great, it sometimes feels a bit too calculated and tries a little too hard to reject the mainstream. The opening and closing shots are perfect examples of this. But a lot of scenes, inexpicably, linger with you after - Johnny sitting with his head covered in a face mould, or Johnny and Cleo playing Guitar Hero. Stephen Dorff, a somewhat washed up actor himself, is perfect for this role. His low-key, disheveled-looking performance is excellent. Also pitch-perfect is Elle Fanning. I did enjoy Somewhere, and while it has some beautiful moments, I felt like it was too much of a retread of Lost in Translation to call it a great film. Overall it’s not quite as satisfying, but still a charming little film in its own right. Having now seen it twice, and appreciating it even more on a repeat viewing, this is definitely an under-the-radar gem from 2010, and a film to savour and enjoy again and again.

My Rating★★★★

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review although I kind of disagree that it's a retread of Lost in Translation.

    While it's still my favorite film of 2010 despite a pretty disappointing DVD release. I saw it as not just an exercise in minimalism but also a very anti-mainstream film in how it opened.

    I came in with low expectations and knew I was going to be confronted when watching it. I came out smiling afterwards.

    Sofia did say that because of the ambition of Marie Antoinette, she wanted to do something simpler.

    I think what she should do next is step outside of her comfort zone a bit but also keep the things that makes her films enjoyable.