Sofia Coppola’s movies seem so simple on the surface, but always prove more than meets the eye, with thoughtful subtexts that too many filmgoers seem to miss. As a colleague of mine recently said to me, “Those that say ‘nothing happened’ have completely missed the point.” Her newest movie, Somewhere, is quiet, understated and sublime. Rebounding from the mixed reaction she received from her last picture, Marie Antoinette, Coppola has returned to the glory of her 2003 hit, Lost in Translation. Somewhere is a spiritual successor to that film, in tone and style, and if you liked it, you’ll probably like this.
Stephen Dorff plays our protagonist, Johnny Marco. When we meet him, he seems a loner. He wastes his days away driving his car around and chasing women, just to end up back home alone drinking booze and ordering pole dancers. He has some friends, but he seems disconnected from them. When he finally does get a girl, he ends up falling asleep on top of her before the fun begins. He comes off as a lonely, downtrodden vagabond, never quite sure what he’s going to be doing from day to day, and you begin to feel sorry for him. Then, suddenly, we find out he’s a big Hollywood actor. This sudden flip in perspective is jarring, but in a good way.
The beginning of the film features very little dialogue and you see Johnny at his barest. As an actor, he’s almost always surrounded by a number of people, including fans, agents and paparazzi. He lives a lifestyle where he is never really alone, yet you gain the understanding that he is. Coppola, who also wrote the screenplay, smartly hides his profession so as not to skew how viewers see him.
Eventually, his daughter, Cleo, played by Elle Fanning, comes into the picture, surprising him with a visit while he goes through the motions on a PR tour for his newest film. She’s a bubbly young eleven year old and loves her dad, even though he hasn’t always been around. Her appearance in the picture once again allows us to view Johnny through a different lens. When she arrives, he is clearly happy to see her and not once does he complain to her that he is too busy. In fact, he takes her along with him on his tour and does his best to make time for her.
However, he is not always consistent, which makes him a difficult character to decipher. Sometimes women take priority, like in a scene where he sneaks one into his hotel room while Cleo sleeps, but other times the opposite is true and he blows off women to spend time with her. This inconsistency is okay, however, because that’s how humans work. We don’t always consider our priorities and our urges end up getting the best of us. In regards to human nature, Somewhere is the most realistic movie I’ve seen in quite some time.
Somewhere is a minimalist movie in sight and sound. When possible, Coppola keeps the camera still and she mercifully takes her time in telling the story, as opposed to the kinetic pace of most Hollywood productions. If there’s a performance of, well, anything, you’ll see it in full. You’ll see a complete ice skating rehearsal and not one, but two stripteases to the end. It’s slow moving, but it’s never dull.
Hesitance going into the movie is understandable. It’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea and the main star, Stephen Dorff, hasn’t done anything interesting since, let’s be honest, 1998’s Blade. But don’t let that stop you. Dorff gives a magnificent performance and makes you wonder why he isn’t hired to star in more major films. Actually, the entire cast is up to the challenge, with the only weak standout being Chris Pontius as Johnny’s best friend, though the fact that he could even remember and recite his lines seems like a minor miracle given the assumption that is he probably on some sort of drug, either for recreation or to curb the pain from his endeavors in the Jackass movies.
There is so much to discuss in Somewhere that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. It’s a movie that demands repeated viewings because you won’t gather all of its intricacies in one sitting. I know I didn’t. And that, if anything, is what makes this film great.
Somewhere receives 4/5