Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Sofia Coppola, director and writer
Starring: Stephen Dorff (Johnny Marco), Elle Fanning (Cleo), Chris Pontius (Sammy), Michelle Monaghan (Rebecca)
Johnny Marco has a problem. He’s a handsome Hollywood star living in the legendary Chateau Marmont, surrounded by friends, fans and publicists. Gorgeous women throw themselves at him. Even his ex-wife is pleasant, just intent on making sure that he takes care of their daughter from time to time.
So what’s the problem? Marco is bored. Twin strippers–great looking blondes–come to his room with transportable poles and dance for him. He remains bored. Parties are thrown. Still bored. Drugs are offered. More boredom. Actors seek his advice. He has none to give. In the film’s most appalling scene, he’s making love to a new conquest–and falls asleep.
Luckily for Marco, he has a wonderful 11-year old daughter. Cleo shows up and forces him to act like a dad, like a human being. She does it by charm and through her innocence. With Cleo, he goes to the skating rink, to recitals, to dinner. She makes splendid breakfasts for him. They play Guitar Hero together. In the film’s most engaging scenes, they go to Italy, where Johnny accepts an award, meets an old girl friend and has fun with his daughter at a gorgeous hotel.
Somewhere is an odd film. Sofia Coppola claims to have based it on her experiences with her dad, Francis Ford Coppola, while he was making films in the ’80s. I doubt he was that bored.
Sofia is becoming the auteur of contemporary upper-class angst. Her characters suffer in hotels–in an anonymous Japanese one in her best film Lost in Translation, in Versailles in the arty but awful Marie Antoinette and now the Chateau Marmont in Somewhere. Her characters can’t locate themselves anywhere. Life is spent having a meaningless but glamorous time in places that mean nothing to you with people who barely exist.
Coppola has an attitude and a point-of-view. She just has to make us care. In Lost In Translation, we did; Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray made us believe that they cared about each other. In Marie Antoinette, nothing worked but the décor was marvelous. In Somewhere, we have the miracle of Elle Fanning.
Up to now, she was Dakota’s younger sister. Now, Elle’s a star. In the Italian section of the film, Cleo (Fanning) is forced to have breakfast with her dad’s old girlfriend. Her performance is razor sharp and absolutely engaging. Cleo is an arresting figure, jealous of the girl, upset with her dad but still happy to be in this wonderful hotel in Italy. It’s a complex scene and Elle Fanning pulls it off with her eyes and body language.
Stephen Dorff is Ok as her dad, Johnny Marco. Should he be doing more than sleepwalking? It’s only at the end of the film that it’s suggested that he may not be happy with his fate. And Dorff isn’t “there” enough to make you care.
Somewhere will be remembered as the first film to raise the profile of Elle Fanning. Or a strange interlude in Sofia Coppola’s career. In any case, I hope Dorff has learned his lesson: stay awake while you’re making love. Or accept the consequences.