Film: Somewhere

Directed by: Sofia Coppola

When Sofia Coppola was growing up, life must have been tough. Thrust into the limelight since her uncredited appearance as baby Michael in her father’s The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972), fame has weighed heavy on her back, like a jewel-encrusted load, and it’s a subject that’s been evident in her work since her first short, Bed Bath and Beyond (1996). Since then there’s been the much acclaimed Lost in Translation (2003), whereby the meeting place between older male (a figure unavoidably connected to that of her father, Francis) and neglected younger female (herself) is beginning to be explored. In Japan, an international superstar is feeling lonely and alienated, and finds solace in the beautiful Scarlet Johansson.  In L.A., an international superstar is left lonely and alienated, and finds solace in his neglected daughter, the young Elle Fanning. This is Somewhere: it might be clear why some have derided the generic nature of the film, and its sulky, brat-like tone, and the potential divisiveness

Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is the movie star who has what he wants in abundance – but like the opening scene implies, even the luxury of a Ferrari becomes dull when you’re just driving round in circles. This guy is on self-destruct – on more than one occasion we’re shown that he’ll only sleep when passed out between the legs of some faceless blonde (who always resemble his yet to be introduced daughter), due to too much whisky. He receives anonymous texts asking “why do you have to be such an asshole” – these are never explained, and nor do they need to be. The film is highly elliptical and contemplative in its exploration of the spiralling waster. It must be said that this is due in part to one of cinema’s most wanted cinematographers, Harris Savides (having previously carried out the role for Gus Van Sant, Noah Baumbach and David Fincher). Slow zoom outs, lingering stationary shots, and eerie use of symmetry all work to build on a sense of lunacy that must underlie all the sunshine, lollipops and rainbows of Tinseltown.

We’ve been here before with Danny Huston’s superb Tolystoyan ‘Ivan’  in Ivansxtc (Bernard Rose, 2000), and while Dorff never reaches the intensity of pill-fuelled Huston, his performance as the always nonchalant actor, who, despite having to stand on a platform to reach a co-star for publicity (no other reference to Tom Cruise  exists), is irresistible to women. Fanning is the natural choice for the role of Cleo – a sibling herself to more widely recognised sister Dakota, she’s supposedly familiar with her surroundings here. She recalls Jodie Foster’s Iris, the teenage prostitute in Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976), minus the angsty dominance. What does relate the two is the same theme of corrupted innocence. After her dad is lulled to sleep by twin pole-dancers in his hotel room, he’s woken up by Cleo – a drastic choice of cut, and one that confirms the idea that this little girl is bound to this way of life, when viewed in light of what follows. Perhaps the key scene in the film, whereby Cleo manages to combine the elegance of a refined ballet dancer with the awkwardness of a pre-pubescent, she ice-skates to Gwen Stefani’s Cool. Dad watches with more intent than he’d have possibly given to those twin strippers.

It’s a film which would understandably frustrate many, alienating the art-film crowd with the frequency of trendy music (Phoenix score; Julian Casablancas; Foo Fighters; Sebastian Tellier), while boring the mainstream with the seemingly absent plot. While several elements are pure replication of previous projects, I’d argue that Coppola has found progress in the daring she attributes to young Fanning, the direct stabs at Hollywood (if only on account of her father’s legacy), and in a conitnued project which strives to make the mainstream think. Not about the potential for space and time manipulation (which is what many attributed to Chris Nolan last year), but through the contemplation she affords the audience. To say any real ground is broken though would be a major overstatement.

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