10 Jan

Title: Somewhere
Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola
Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Chris Pontius, Michelle Monaghan
MPAA Rating:
R, sexual content, nudity and language
97 min
Major Awards:
1 NBR Award
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

Sofia Coppola is, in many ways, the reason why I write these reviews, the reason why I watch three films a day and the reason why I, plain and simple, love the art of filmmaking. You see, I saw Lost in Translation in February of 2004, when I was thirteen, and that was the film that changed my life, the one that got me into movies, the one that had me starting my self-education on the art form, checking it out all the classics, understanding the technicalities of it all, and it is, to this day, still my favorite film ever made, biased as I may be because of all the sentimentality I feel towards it.

And so here I was, about to watch Somewhere, her fourth film, and her first since 2006’s Marie Antoinette, a film I thought was rather remarkable and quite underrated. And I can honestly say that Ms. Coppola is now batting four for four. This is yet another outstanding film from her.

I know what some detractors may have to say about Somewhere, that this is all familiar territory for Ms. Coppola. Because it all still feels very meditative and slowly beautiful and intimate, and much like Lost in Translation it’s one that deals with a movie star at a hotel in the middle of a huge episode of existential ennui. But that’s the beauty of Ms. Coppola’s films, and even though that part is indeed stuff she has dealt with before, here she tackles the male point of view, which is definitely something newer to her.

In The Virgin Suicides, her sublime debut film, she dealt with the Lisbon sisters. Lost in Translation obviously had Bob Harris, the character of Bill Murray, and his feelings of boredom and existential unease are obviously a huge part of the film, but there was also Scarlett Johansson’s character and she was equally important. Marie Antoinette obviously dealt with the life of the titular queen. So yes, Somewhere is the first film in which Ms. Coppola delves this much into the male psyche, and in doing so she explores the nature of celebrity via Johnny Marco, the character played by Stephen Dorff, and in Elle Fanning’s Cleo, she finds a character in which she can embed her own experiences as the daughter of a star.

I really did adore Somewhere. It’s a film that lures you in tremendously and that lets you linger in its essence, and that has in Mr. Dorff and Ms. Fanning the two best people we could have hoped for to bring this story to life. And that’s especially commendable because casting Mr. Dorff in the first place has to be considered something of a risk on behalf of Ms. Coppola. Here’s a role that could have been given to a much bigger name, a guy with more credibility, but she gave it to a man who hasn’t done anything amazing in a while. And boy does Mr. Dorff thank her in the best way possible, delivering a truly fantastic performance, and making Somewhere a much beautiful piece because he can dig deep and find beauty in those tough places, and effectively make this film a terrific comeback vehicle for himself.

I loved how Somewhere felt to me. And I guess it really feels much like all of Ms. Coppola’s films do. Marie Antoinette I guess is an exception in the way that it obviously is a much bigger film, one with a larger scope and more characters and things going on. But even that one is a film that, in its core, is all about a private journey with a character. And here she returns to her usual turf, making quiet films that will tear at your heart without really letting you know, and that will, obviously, look gorgeous all the way through.

Johnny Marco is a fantastic creation from Ms. Coppola. As a movie star, he’s a guy who has money, sex and all the vices in between aplenty. As a man he’s a guy living in a hotel room, feeling empty, living a life of no substance, and just watching it all go by, dutifully doing his professional business and then just going back to nothing. Mr. Dorff plays Johnny Marco with beautiful disconnection, and does wonders with the role.

And it’s a role that’s written beautifully, and is so damn effective in part because Mr. Dorff no doubt has been there done that, and because Ms. Coppola has been there and seen that. As a child she was known as the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, one of the biggest directors around, and she even made an appearance in The Godfather: Part III, and she followed her father around to all the big places and met all the big names. That’s an essential thing to Somewhere, not only because it obviously helped craft the character of Cleo, Johnny’s daughter who comes to spend time with her dad, but also because her experiencing all of that as a child, not really being part of it but being there observing and taking it all in, made Somewhere a very detailed portrayal of celebrity.

And that quality of Somewhere, how observing it is and how accurate and real its portrayal of celebrity life is, is what sets it apart and makes it such an amazing picture. Not to mention that, much like she did with Tokyo and the Park Hyatt in Lost in Translation, Ms. Coppola here makes Los Angeles and the Chateau Marmont two very tangible characters that have their effect in the film. The Chateau Marmont is legendary, a hotel in which stars go to retreat, to have their privacy, to play the waiting game until something new comes along. And that’s the character it plays here, and Ms. Coppola captures its essence tremendously.

And Mr. Dorff also captures the effect of the city and the hotel. He plays Johnny Marco as an unaffected man, one who seems to be oblivious to much of his surroundings, one who doesn’t seem to feel much at all regarding anything, one who’s playing the waiting game with life, watching it all come and go. And what’s beautiful about Somewhere is that we do the same, we watch, Ms. Coppola never has us judge, or infer or anything, we just observe the life of this man. And that’s why Ms. Coppola is someone I honestly feel love towards, why she’s the reason why I love films, because she loves to just observe, she doesn’t need a plot so long as she has characters we could watch just doing nothing.

I loved Somewhere, I really did. I loved how human Mr. Dorff made Johnny, especially considering how differently other actors could have approached the character, and I loved what young Ms. Fanning did with Cleo. She’s the younger sister of Dakota Fanning (she’s twelve, Dakota’s sixteen), but I’ll go ahead and say she’ll be the better actress once it’s all said and done. She’s just too damn good here. Cleo is the character that breaks our heart, and Ms. Fanning handles herself with the professionalism and grace of a full fledged actress, it’s hard to remember she’s actually twelve.

And the relationship between Johnny and Cleo is fascinating to watch. She comes in at first briefly for a visit, then her mother has to deal with something and she has to stay with her dad for a while longer. And in a way she’s the parental unit here, taking care of her father, but Ms. Fanning still embeds in Cleo that look of admiration towards her father. Much like it’s the case with Mr. Dorff, it’s amazing to see just how much she can do with the role, she takes it to a whole other level.

Please go see Somewhere. It’s a beautiful film, I’ve seen it three times already and it actually grows on you quite a bit. Because it’s a film about observation, and every time you watch it you’ll fall in love with something new in it, I guarantee that. Not to mention that it boasts two sensational and charming performances, and that, even though it’s deep with familiar themes for Ms. Coppola, it’s a film in which you can attest her growth as an auteur. And you’ll find yourself feeling that the probable three or four-year wait for her next project will be well worth it.

Grade: A+


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