Somewhere, Sofia Coppola, 97 mins (15)
Sofia Coppola returns to themes of rootless celebrity in a film so good that, in future, she can ditch those bored actors and move on to something new
Sunday 12 December 2010
As a scion of Hollywood royalty, it's hardly surprising that Sofia Coppola specialises in The View From The VIP Lounge.
Her last film, the lavishly eccentric Marie Antoinette, seemed to present pre-Revolution Versailles as a metaphor for Beverly Hills, and now the follow-up, Somewhere, comes across as a variation on 2003's Lost in Translation, which also depicted the Lifestyles of the Rich, Famous and Chronically Bored. That film was about a Hollywood actor at a loose end while making an advert in Tokyo, having his spirits raised by an encounter with a lively young woman. Somewhere is about a Hollywood actor at a loose end while doing not very much in LA, and having his spirits raised by an encounter with a lively young girl – in this case, his 11-year-old daughter.
The actor is Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a movie star who seems to be permanently between movies, and between actual events in his life. We never see him acting, only promoting past films, or preparing for the next. Work consists of attending a press conference where he gives monosyllabic answers to asinine questions, or grinning through a photo call with a co-star (Michelle Monaghan) who hates his guts. In one scene, he gets fitted for a special-effects latex mask: he sits motionless, his head encased in white glop, only the sound of breath through nostril holes telling us that he's still there. The next shot provides a terrific moment of truth, as the previously young, handsome Johnny stares in the mirror at the wizened rubber face of his aged self: this is the hitherto unknown existential side of prosthetic FX make-up.
Languishing with his arm in plaster after a fall, Johnny lives a life of dissolute bachelor luxury at the Chateau Marmont hotel. It's hardly home: in one scene, Johnny walks into his suite to find a party in full swing, a roomful of strangers barely aware of his presence. But sex is always on tap – a stream of sullen beauties continuously parades in and out of the room across the corridor. Early in the film, Johnny lies on his bed while identical twin pole-dancers go through their moves in perfect sync, living Warhol multiples. He falls asleep in mid-show, and the sisters fold up their poles and leave. It's a terrifically funny scene, in a cruel, caustic way, treated with cool art-cinema detachment, the static camera fixing at length on the girls' coy, strenuous calisthenics. Coppola seems to overdo the joke by having the pair return soon afterwards, but the repetition is part of the point, with a twist. The second time, the twins apparently stay the night; next morning, blonde hair brushes over Johnny as a female hand draws a heart on his plaster cast. But they turn out to belong to Johnny's young daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning), who's come to visit.
Johnny and Cleo spend more time together than expected, when her mother decides to spend some time alone. Johnny ends up taking the kid to Italy, where – echoes of Lost in Translation and its lampooning of the Japanese media – the film takes a turn into broad showbiz farce, with Johnny surrounded by dancing girls at a manically glitzy awards ceremony.
The film is languidly episodic, in no rush to congeal into story. Johnny and Cleo play Guitar Hero and hang out with Johnny's moderately sleazy sidekick (Chris Pontius); Cleo makes eggs Benedict. The pair's quality time ends with an idyllic swimming moment: they pretend to drink tea underwater, then sunbathe on the poolside. The camera pulls slowly back from this still scene: utter happiness, but of a kind that we know will prove ephemeral.
This is a realistic, honest film. Coppola doesn't reassure us that all will now be well between Johnny and Cleo: who knows whether he'll be around much for her in future? Coppola just gives us their window of heightened intimacy, and leaves us to make our own predictions.
A downbeat anti-mainstream aesthetic is established by cameraman Harris Savides in the opening shot, in which Johnny drives his car round in circles, in the middle of nowhere; artfully framed, it could almost be an installation video. Somewhere is, in fact, very much an art film – detached, keenly ironic and free of fake emotional rewards. Stephen Dorff is quietly compelling, giving Johnny the unravelling self-assurance of a man coming to realise that he's turning into Jack Nicholson before his time. As Cleo, Fanning gives a terrific, affecting performance – neither brattishly knowing nor gauchely cute, but alert, relaxed, suggesting an insightful, tolerant child not yet spoilt by what she's learning about the world. In Italy, Cleo finds herself having breakfast with one of Johnny's passing-through girlfriends – and Fanning's quizzically disapproving silent glances provide one of the film's more emotionally eloquent touches.
You'd think it would be hard to elicit sympathy for the inhabitants of the film's mundanely opulent world, but Coppola's restraint and amused compassion make this a film about recognisably fallible people, much more so than movies about Hollywood usually contrive to show us. That said, Coppola probably should find some new subjects other than the pressures of life in privileged snow-globe worlds, but if this subtle, intelligent film is her last word on the subject, it feels like a definitive one.
Jonathan Romney ponders the mysteries of online identity in real-life internet drama Catfish
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Cheeky' Nando's under fire for apparently coming onto a customer on Twitter
- 2 Saudi Arabia mosque bombing: Two volunteer security guards hailed as heroes for stopping Isis suicide bomber reaching worshippers
- 3 Playboy model April Summers speaks out about being a victim of revenge porn
- 4 There is something wrong but very right about this Bible illustration
- 5 iPhone 'effective power' text: how to be safe from iOS bug that lets people crash your phone
Jay Z's Tidal could be about to lose Beyonce's music in ultimate humiliation
Royal Academy of Arts' Tim Marlow: Bronze statue of lovers embracing at St Pancras station is a lesson in 'how not to do' public art
Britain's Hardest Grafter: Petition set up as Twitter reacts to BBC 'poverty porn' series pitting low-paid workers against each other
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
Big Brother contestant Aaron Frew removed from house for 'inappropriate behaviour' after flashing fellow contestants
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'