Stephen Dorff stars in director Sofia Coppola’s new drama, Somewhere. Does it recapture the brilliance of Lost In Translation? Here’s Luke’s review…
Somewhere opens with a nice, big metaphor. A sports car speeds across the frame and out of shot, the distant roar of its engine the only clue that it’s still going. Seconds later it reappears, flashes past, then disappears again. And then again, and again, and again.
It’s going round in circles, basically. And Sofia Coppola’s film tells the story of a man whose life is just that: a sports car going nowhere, a life full of fleeting excitement that’s ultimately meaningless. Clever, huh?
Okay, that’s a little hokey. But Somewhere doesn’t do hokey at all after that. In fact, it doesn’t do much of anything at all after that. If Marie Antoinette showed a director trying too hard, then her follow-up to her follow-up to Lost In Translation goes the other way. It’s almost as if she’s trying not to try.
Like Lost In Translation, Somewhere tells the story of a movie star, Stephen Dorff’s Johnny Marco. Although “story” might be pushing it. here isn’t much to go on here, just a series of things happening. Johnny has a drink and smokes a cigarette. Johnny watches two pole dancers perform for his enjoyment. Johnny goes to an Italian film festival and sleeps around a bit. And, most importantly, Johnny spends time with his daughter (Elle Fanning’s Cleo).
Somewhere is so slight that it makes Bill Murray’s escapades in Japan seem like a David Lean adventure. Even dialogue is hard to come by in the film’s opening fifteen minutes. Coppola simply follows Dorff’s Johnny around as if this is a documentary about a man with nothing on that day. Well, nothing except that private pole dancing show.
Not even a movie star routine can shift the film into a higher gear. Dorff’s visit to get a mould of his head made is so stretched out and lacking excitement that it becomes hilariously banal. Coppola simply lets her camera sit there, a passive observer in a silent world. And Somewhere feels like eavesdropping on someone’s life.
Of course, this isn’t just any life. It’s Johnny the Movie Star’s life. So, the film is filled with comic vignettes highlighting the ridiculousness of it all: a massage gone wrong, a press conference filled with inane questions (“Who is Johnny Marco?”, one journalist asks, which curiously neither Johnny nor the film ever answers), an awards presentation, kinda gone wrong. Coppola tells the same thing more than once. This is an existence of simply smiling and moving onto the next thing, wherever that may be.
Dorff, exiled from the straight-to-DVD hell he’s been unfairly consigned to for the better part of the last decade (although Felon was pretty good), underplays it for all its worth. And, incredibly, he takes a cue out of the Joey from Friends school of acting. This is as much about reacting as it as acting. A slight smile is all it takes to draw us in, a glazed over look at the surreal happenings he has to contend with enough to provoke a laugh.
It’s in keeping with the film’s tone. Because even when Fanning’s Cleo enters the picture, Coppola refuses to make Somewhere what you think it will become. Sure, there’s a message in here, but there’s none of the histrionics that usually accompany it, no melodramatic soundtrack urging us to cry, and no big hugs going round.
Somewhere is funnier than it is moving, but like Coppola’s camera, it lingers longer than you expect. That sports car opening is more than just a metaphor too. You keep thinking something’s going to happen there. Is the car going to veer off? Is it going to change direction? Is it going to do anything other than just go round and round? No, it’s not. It’s just going to keep doing what it’s doing. Coppola’s film is exactly the same.
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