Somewhere

Somewhere

**1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Grant

In 1989, a young Sofia Coppola wrote the screenplay for Life With Zoe, her father Francis Ford’s entry in the New York Stories omnibus, which also included segments by Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. Considered the weakest of the three, it’s an immature and rather pointless tale of the exploits of a precocious little rich girl who lives in a swank Manhattan hotel and attends a private school with some of the wealthiest children in the world. Clearly influenced to a degree by her own childhood, a fair portion of which was spent in hotels worldwide, it’s a milieu that she repeatedly returns to – Lost In Translation, Marie Antoinette (what is Versailles if not the world’s poshest hotel?) and once again in her latest film, Somewhere.

A grittier, rougher looking film than her past efforts, and with dialogue kept to a bare minimum, Somewhere tells of actor Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a Hollywood megastar who, for some inexplicable reason, is holed up at the legendary Chateau Marmont hotel in West Hollywood suffering from an overwhelming abundance of ennui and malaise. He spends most of his days and nights either watching television or being visited by twin strippers who perform private pole dances at the foot of his bed, while remaining clothed, oddly enough.

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Eventually we learn of a failed marriage/relationship and of his 11-year-old daughter, the precocious, adorable, ice-dancing Cleo (Elle Fanning). Though their relationship is a bit strained, they manage to bond over Rock Band, Wii Tennis and lounging at the pool while a song by The Strokes fills the soundtrack. A last-minute trip to Italy finds the film pointlessly venturing into Lost In Translation territory for 20 minutes or so, but then we’re right back to Los Angeles for tears, fumbled attempts at poignancy and a clichéd ending that you’d possibly forgive had it come from a first time indie-filmmaker, but not from someone this established.

In Lost In Translation, Bill Murray essentially played a variant of himself – a post-middle-age actor no longer in the spotlight, reduced to appearing in whiskey adverts overseas. His malaise is earned and understood. In Somewhere, we have no indication as to why Johnny is so glum, outside of the hackneyed “fame is loneliness” chestnut. A bottle of male-pattern baldness pills in his bathroom hints at concerns of ageing, but he’s still too young for that to be a serious problem. An elevator encounter with Benicio del Toro (playing himself) reveals that celebrities talk about nothing other than other celebrities. And though images of Hollywood superficiality abound, including a ridiculous press conference that leaves our poor depressed hero speechless, these disparate moments never add up to anything.

If Somehwere is indicative of anything, it’s that Coppola grew up in a remarkably isolated world. Lacking any sort of critical distance or self-reflection, it’s merely a wafer-thin portrait of an artist suffering from… something. As the child of a tremendously famous man, you’d think that the father-daughter relationship would be one of the film’s strong points, yet there’s no effort made to explore it beyond the surface. Cleo is clearly bright, and extremely self-sufficient, but her character is no more developed than Zoe was back in 1989. The film’s screenplay is a mere 45 pages, and it feels that way.

The soundtrack by indie rock darlings Phoenix is, at times, used to excess, and never synergises with the material the way Air’s score did in The Virgin Suicides. Working for the first time with cinematographer Harris Savides, the film lacks the sun-baked glow of her previous films, and there’s a visual rough edge that suits the mood. It’s just a shame the material is so devoid of substance.

Reviewed on: 07 Dec 2010
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Somewhere packshot
An actor finds his booze-laden life transformed by the arrival of his estranged young daughter.
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