Convalescing after a hand injury at Los Angeles Chateau Marmont hotel, actor Johnny Marco (Dorff) leads an empty existence picking up women, watching pole dancers, and sleepwalking through press conferences. His listless state is interrupted when Cleo (F
Sofia Coppola cleaves close to the obsessions that have informed her three previous flicks: daddy-daughter relationships, blank-faced actors, young girls trying to find their place in the world, oblique framing of clinical hotel rooms, too-cool-for-school music, all wrapped up in a low-level melancholy. For those irked by Coppola’s fascination with the woes of the over-privileged, steer clear. For the rest of us, this is a gentle, exquisitely made, quietly moving delight.
On paper, Somewhere may feel like a retrenchment after the downbeat reaction to the bigger Marie Antoinette. But, if anything, this is the most balls-y iteration of Coppola’s storytelling aesthetic yet. For starters, it has a practically wordless first 20 minutes, in which Johnny (Stephen Dorff) drives his Ferrari round a circular track — the locked-off camera shot adding whimsy to the life-going-nowhere metaphor — then watches delightfully amateurish pole dancers perform to his desultory gaze. As Marco is saddled with Cleo (Elle Fanning), his realistically smart 11 year-old daughter, what could be a mawkish drama in which a cute kid gives a disconnected dad life lessons is presented as an assemblage of individual scenes — Johnny takes Cleo to ice-skating lessons, a sojourn to Milan where Johnny picks up an award — that form into a moving, truthful portrait of the thawing of estrangement.
The droll, deadpan quality of Lost In Translation is taken even further (keep ’em peeled for a wry riff on Translation’s whisper ending). Undergoing a cast for old-age make-up, Johnny’s head is completely covered in a plaster mould, save for two nostrils. It’s an obvious visual metaphor for someone unable to connect with the outside world but Coppola lets it run for all its sly wit. Throughout Somewhere, camera shots are held much longer for artful comedic effect. Scenes that would have been cut out of other films — Cleo making breakfast, Marco following a hot girl in a car with no outcome — are here given full rein. Los Angeles doesn’t quite give Somewhere what Tokyo gives Lost In Translation, but Coppola still finds fresh ways to frame hotel lobbies (few understand the private little worlds of hotels better than she does), swimming pools and freeways.
With little dialogue, Dorff, after years of DTV villains, fills an inherently lazy man with sad-eyed charm. There’s no back story about Johnny’s career (you feel he’s at Keanu Reeves’ level) or his relationships. Coppola allows you to fill in the gaps, and through Dorff’s skill, you get to know the character intimately. Fanning, little sis of Dakota, is equally deft: she’s upbeat without being irksome, a mother figure to Johnny without being precocious.
Coppola puts only one foot wrong — an ending that hammers home a point that up until then had been beautifully understated. It may be too languid for some tastes (just like Marco’s life), but if you give in to its rhythms and slow-paced charms, Somewhere yields delicious rewards.
It may not have Lost In Translations reach, but its original and smartly funny with top performances.