Introduction

Somewhere

Somewhere
  • Country of production: USA
  • Year: 2010
  • Certificate: 15
  • Director: Sofia Coppola
  • Running time: 98 minutes
  • Official website: www.somewherethemovie.com
 

Somewhere is writer-director Sofia Coppola's affecting portrait of a jaded movie star, which won the Golden Lion, top prize at the Venice film festival, this year. It marks ‘an entrancing return to form' (Mark Adams, Screen International) for Coppola, whose acclaimed Lost in Translation (2003) won an Oscar for Best Screenplay as well as nominations for Best Director and Best Picture. Her depiction here of the absurdity and emptiness of life in the celebrity bubble ‘further hones her gifts for ruefully funny observation and understated melancholy' (Justin Chang, Variety). Grazia magazine called it ‘a must for fans of her absorbing, intimate style'.

Stephen Dorff (Backbeat, 1994; Blood and Wine, 1996; Blade, 1998) plays movie star Johnny Marco, who lives in a suite at the infamous Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles. The film opens with him driving round in circles, an allusion to his aimless and meaningless life. If he hasn't lost his way, he is certainly in stasis. He is stumped for a reply when a fawning journalist asks, "Who is Johnny Marco?" and is bemused when women complain about him as so many throw themselves at him. It is only when he is forced to look after his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) that his life starts to have purpose.

It seems likely that Cleo is drawn at least partly from Coppola's personal experience. As the daughter of celebrated director Francis Ford Coppola, and having started her career with a cameo as a baby being christened in The Godfather, she spent her childhood traipsing around the world with him, going from hotel to hotel.

She has repeatedly used hotels as locations for her films, including Life Without Zoe, the section of New York Stories (1989) she wrote for her father to direct; Lost in Translation and even Marie Antoinette (2006) - she says Versailles was "like a hotel". She explains that she is drawn to hotel settings because they are their own private worlds.

The Chateau Marmont itself features prominently in this film, reflecting its long-established reputation as a louche Hollywood hangout. At one point, Marco shares a lift with Benicio Del Toro, who says, "I met Bono in 59", as if reminiscing about a memorable year, rather than a room in the hotel.

Re-view

Somewhere

SOMEWHERE, BUT NOT REALLY HERE

‘Movie people are nomads, ever on location, forming alliances and liaisons that are as intense as they are evanescent. (Who are you I love you goodbye.) For these travelling salesmen of make-believe, a hotel is home.'

(RICHARD CORLISS, TIME MAGAZINE)

Dislocation

Johnny Marco is one step removed from everyone around him, whether he's falling asleep while pole dancers gyrate in his room, getting women's names wrong or on his own at a party in his own hotel room. It's even more noticeable with his daughter - he applauds her ice-skating in the same disengaged way he did the girls who pole danced for him and he doesn't know she's been doing it for three years.

His separation makes for some of the film's humour. When he is struggling intently to cut a plaster cast off, declaring ‘I got it' to reassure those he's with, he is oblivious to the fact that they are paying no attention to him. His disconnection is most overt in a scene where he is left alone, completely encased in a full-head mask but for two holes to breathe through. ‘Like some monster or Egyptian mummy, we see him stifling with loneliness. Cocooned in celebrity, he can make contact with no one.' (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian).

Lost in transition

Marco moves from hotel to hotel through LA, Milan and Las Vegas, exchanging one artificial environment and its obsequious staff for another, while avoiding the need to engage with other people, develop a personality or think for himself. When not in a hotel, he is driving placidly down one of LA's seemingly interminable freeways.

Lost in Translation had Bill Murray as a lonely, middle-aged actor in a Tokyo hotel who finds companionship and even a kind of salvation in the friendship he strikes up with Scarlett Johansson. Here, Marco is saved by his daughter Cleo.

Home from hotel room

Cleo makes his hotel room a home, taking great care in cooking for him. Too astute, sensible and spirited to go along with his apathy and excesses, she raises a reproachful eyebrow when one of his conquests joins them for breakfast, which leads him later to feel obliged to explain himself when another woman tries to pick him up. Cleo is the most grounded character here, just as children were in the last film we featured in Film Eye, The Kids Are All Right, also set in LA. ‘For this Hollywood nomad, Cleo's heart is his true home. She is the somewhere he needs to get to' (Richard Corliss, Time magazine).

Critics singled out child actor Elle Fanning for praise, describing her as ‘delicately affecting' (Samuel Wigley, Sight & Sound) and ‘extremely self-possessed' (Kevin Maher, The Times). The younger sister of Dakota Fanning, she has previously been seen in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).

Somewhere, and for some time

There is little camera movement and shots are sustained for long periods, when for the past decade the fashion has been for a shaky, hand-held style. This contributes to a detached and low-key film-making style. Characters generally keep their emotions in check too, and the film is ‘truthfully, yet unsentimentally, observed', said Samuel Wigley in Sight & Sound, who likened the film to a Bret Easton Ellis novel. With no description and little dialogue, it is arguably far truer to life than a more obviously scripted account, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian.

Grazia magazine described the film as ‘a shimmering dream of a movie' and Kevin Maher in The Times called it ‘a dreamy and delicious tone-poem'. The individual scenes of wispy musical montages and small conversational exchanges ‘eventually cohere into a father-daughter relationship that is at once casual, affectionate, touching, difficult and quietly profound'.

The charge that Coppola has stayed in her comfort zone in depicting the exclusive lives of the famous ‘would be more persuasive if the movies themselves weren't so consistently disarming' (Justin Chang, Variety). This film successfully overcomes the problem of the main character's ennui and it is an achievement to have made ‘an affecting and quietly funny film' about such an unsympathetic character, said Geoffrey Macnab in The Independent. ‘The real miracle in Somewhere is that by the film's final iconic shot (think The Searchers) we're not just rooting for Johnny Marco. We like him too' (Kevin Maher, The Times).

 
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Somewhere

 
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Somewhere

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