Somewhere is a continuation of Sophia Coppola’s melancholy exploration of loneliness. It’s Ms. Coppola’s fourth feature film, and it’s been terribly interesting watching her evolve, and how she experiments with film. First, it was The Virgin Suicides, my personal favorite. A story full of isolation and the melancholy, but also plump full of plot. She departed from the normal expectations of plot in favor of mood and atmosphere which came off remarkably well in her second film Lost in Translation. Next, she went on to Marie Antoinette, experimenting again with the other facets of film outside of solid storylines, focusing on the lack of happiness while surrounded by wealth and privilege.. For me, Marie was a success, but that opinion seems to be polarizing. And now we have Somewhere, a strikingly beautiful film of more melancholy, isolation and loneliness surrounded by wealth and privilege.
Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a perceived Hollywood badboy who’s shacking up at the famed Chateau Marmont. It seems he’s busy making one movie, while promoting another. His brother (Chris Pontius) plans parties in Johnny’s room, where promiscuous women throw themselves at the star, sometimes without him even having to say a word. But he’s bored with the life, he’s unhappy. I know, it sounds like normal Hollywood self-indulgence and you’ll be damned if you’re going to sympathize with a man who has all material needs and desires immediately cared for. But Johnny is not, or should not, be the focus that Ms. Coppola had in mind for Somewhere. What you should be paying attention to, is a carefully, and methodically thought out examination of the lifestyle.
Johnny smokes and drinks, he does drugs. He hires lackluster prostitutes to bring in portable poles and do choreographed (but never sexy) routines in themed outfits. Half the time, he can’t even stay awake for it. He falls asleep with his head between the legs of his latest conquest. But he perks up when his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning), appears. It seems logical to see Cleo as an autobiographical character for Coppola. But it seems overly simplistic to assume this, which would bring too definitive a view on the themes explored here. After all, it’s safe to assume she’s far too smart for this. Cleo becomes one of the most interesting characters of Somewhere. She takes advantage of the perks offered in order to maintain a semblance of normalcy. This is made clear in a scene where she orders the ingredients for a homemade meal from room service, and cooks it herself. While Johnny does show a genuine interest in Cleo, she’s a fleeting influence in his life. And while they can share time together, shared custody and restored solitariness looms overhead.
Coppola’s direction is paired beautifully with Harris Savides’ cinematography, and we are often treated to stunning images that seem to come from Hollywood’s golden age. It’s easy to see borrowed influences from Michelangelo Antonioni films (particularly L’avventura, and La Notte), perhaps inspired by a short trip Cleo and Johnny take to Italy for a ridiculous awards show. The long shots, mostly free of dialog is a style that isn’t immediately familiar to many movie-goers. And it’s a possible turn off. But it must be understood that Somewhere must not be approached the same way one would The Fighter, or Black Swan. While we are asked to pay very close attention, we’re not asked to do so for very long, the film runs only ninety eight minutes. It’s a different kind of film. But it’s proof that Sophia Coppola is not a one hit wonder, and she is getting everything she wants to out of every project she does. I can’t wait to see what she does next.