After the success of The Virgin Suicides and its Oscar winning follow-up, Lost In Translation, Hollywood golden child Sofia Coppola’s seemingly unassailable career trajectory hit something of a speed bump with the rather hostile critical and commercial reception of her third film, the punk/pop flavoured historical costume drama that was Marie Antoinette.
With that critical mauling in mind, it would seem logical to view Somewhere as something of a deliberate attempt by Coppola to retreat into a more comfortable and familiar milieu after her dalliance with the world of European history. However, as with most things Coppola approaches, the answer is rarely that pat.
Opening with a single, static shot of a black Ferrari racing round in circles in the desert, Somewhere sets its stall out early. This isn’t a film about explosive plot developments, nor of narrative propulsion. Instead, it’s the story of someone stuck in a perpetual Möbius loop of repetition and emptiness.
The focus of Coppola’s move is Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a Hollywood star who’s currently holed up in the famous Hollywood hang out, the Chateau Marmont hotel. Johnny’s life is simple: get up late, hang around town and party at the Marmont. Whether that be with a gaggle of strangers back at his room, sleeping with his new ‘neighbour’ or watching a pair of blonde twins perform ludicrously unerotic private pole dancing routines for him, Johnny’s up for it 24/7.
But nagging away, under the surface of it all, is a question. Who is Johnny Marco? Unfortunately, it’s not a question to which Johnny has any sort of answer.
While I’m not sure it would be fair to describe Somewhere as a journey of self-discovery, it is nevertheless a movie that attempts to show us a character struggling with notions of aging, mortality and the passage of time.
This theme is underlined early in the movie when Johnny has to have a prosthetic head mould taken for an upcoming acting part. Slathered under rubber and isolated from everyone else, it’s one of the quietest and most contemplative moments in the entire film, which is brilliantly followed up with the punchline that Johnny’s being tested out for old age make-up.
Coming face to face with a prosthetic version of his own future, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that this is the fate that Johnny’s running from.
It’s not until his seemingly well adjusted, 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (played by the superb Elle Fanning), makes an appearance that we begin to see just how much life is passing him by. When he takes Cleo ice skating he has no idea that she’s been taking lessons for three years. It’s a small moment, but as with most small moments in Coppola’s films, one that says everything about Johnny’s connection to those around him.
However, Johnny’s ‘arms length’ mode of parenting has to come to an end when Cleo’s mother asks him to take care of Cleo until it’s time for her to go to summer camp. Having no choice but to take on the responsibility, he deals with it in the only way he knows how, by taking Cleo with him to Italy!
But despite the amusement of this Italian interlude at the Telegatto Awards, the heart of the movie remains in LA, and it’s the moments where Johnny and Cleo are fooling around in the Marmont pool, playing Guitar Hero and just generally hanging out, that the movie is at its most poignant.
Eventually, it’s time for Johnny’s brief sojourn into the world of parenting to end and he has to take the heartbroken and uncertain Cleo off to camp. Naturally, this being Johnny, he makes sure they part company with him close to Las Vegas and her dropped off by helicopter. But as she departs, Johnny shouts across to her, “Sorry I haven’t been around.”
It’s a rare moment of self-appraisal, but as it’s drowned out by the helicopter blades, it’s a moment clearly meant more for his own benefit than Cleo’s.
Those expecting a movie tonally in step with Lost in Translation will probably be disappointed in Somewhere. Johnny Marco is far less obviously likeable than Bill Murray’s Bob Harris, and the world created here is far less accessible than the broader, caricatured Japan of the earlier film.
If anything, Somewhere is a movie that owes far more to Coppola’s understated and underrated Marie Antoinette than her earlier ‘hotel’ film. Here she takes the earlier film’s stripped down aesthetic and creates a dream-like mood that’s evocative of not only the French New Wave, but also Ozu, John Cassavetes and even Stanley Kubrick.
It’s unlikely that this film will win Coppola any new admirers, but if you’re a fan of her films in particular and a more contemplative, poetic style of filmmaking in general, there’s a lot to enjoy in Somewhere.
Somewhere is out now on DVD and available from the Den Of Geek Store.