Somewhere: A Review
Dir: Sofia Coppola; *ing: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning
Sometime in the early 70s, actor/filmmaker/ Sundance film festival founder-benefactor Robert Redford, who was one of the world’s biggest film stars at the time, told of an incident that occurred one day as he was walking down a street in New York City. A bunch of college kids rode by in a car and upon spotting him, one of them, a young man, leaned out of the car window, pointed at him and yelled, ‘Robert Redford…!!’ The actor coolly smiled and gave a little wave, at which point the young man completed his sentence, ‘… you are SUCH an asshole!!’
Redford recalled the incident with fondness, saying it served as a timely and humbling reminder that even he, after all, was mortal, even if it didn’t always feel that way, to himself or to his audience. It is also revealing in that it focuses on an aspect of celebrity life that is rarely made public – the everyday, the mundane, the apples and pears, the squeezed out tube of toothpaste. These are the preoccupations of Somewhere, the latest of writer/director Sofia Coppola’s singularly quirky yet narratively sparse works, a film which incidentally has much in common with the post nouvelle vague cinema of the 70s – its quiet, deliberate pacing and telling silences remind one of Altman’s Three Women, and Mallick’s Days of Heaven. In it Coppola delineates an imagined life, that of movie star Johnny Marco (Dorff), and while said life is one lived under a microscope, it is ironically enough unexamined by the one living it.
Johnny is a seemingly anomalous creature – the homeless movie star – living at and out of a hotel, L.A.’s celebrated Chateau Marmont, where in the past John Belushi infamously overdosed, and Howard Hughes haunted the hallways with Kleenex boxes on his feet. Here Johnny has cold beer and random sex, and falls asleep to the sounds of twin blonde strippers squeaking up and down on their portable poles. It is an unremarkable, even uninteresting existence, like the same day set on a loop, or as depicted in the film’s opening scene, a car going in a circle – travelling without moving, to paraphrase Frank Herbert. What is a celebrity, Coppola seems to be saying, but a regular person minus reason and accountability. Then into the mix comes Cleo (Fanning), Johnny’s eleven year-old daughter from a past liaison. No, it’s not a surprise, nor is it their first meeting; as we quickly deduce, this is an established relationship, and Cleo is a regular visitor to her father’s party haven. There aren’t any clichéd cutesy ‘Aww!’ moments to catch our fancy, no father-daughter bonding by singing ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ into a hairbrush, or endless tickle-fest montages. Instead we see them living unhurriedly and unfussingly in the quiet comfort and meaning of each other’s company. And at the end of the visit, Cleo heads back to Mom’s as usual. But something about this visit must have been different from the all the others that came before it, though what that might be is not spelled out but only subtly hinted at in Johnny’s altered demeanour. Cleo, it seems, has changed Johnny. Not to say that she has metaphorically moved his furniture in a fit of feng shui; rather, she has opened a window onto his darkened room.
Somewhere has much in common with Coppola’s earlier masterwork Lost in Translation, besides the obvious that is – actors hanging out at hotels – both films also start out innocuously but grow on you before you even realize that your cynicism is porous. It is a deceptively simple, sentiment-free film, and yet manages to be warm and surprisingly moving. Ms. Coppola is altogether a very different storyteller from her famous dad, but not lesser than, and is definitely headed somewhere.