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REVIEW: Somewhere

By Philip Martin

This article was published March 18, 2011 at 3:19 a.m.

— Somewhere 83

Cast:

Stephen Dorff, Benicio Del Toro, Chris Pontius, Elle Fanning, Laura Ramsey, Michelle Monaghan

Director:

Sofia Coppola

Rating:

R, for sexual content, nudity and language

Runtime:

98 minutes

Films about ennui are perverse in the sense that most of us go to the movies to be excited, to have our senses rattled by sensation. We want to escape boredom, not be steeped in it. It takes such exquisite, rarefied taste to genuinely enjoy the subtle oscillations and microdramas inherent in the everyday. It certainly takes sensibilities more refined than my own.

But just because I didn’t exactly enjoy Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere doesn’t mean I don’t understand it; I think it’s meant to show us that even the rich and famous can suffer from existential dread, that money cannot rescue listlessness from itself, and that cushioned comfort might be a kind of hell. It rebukes Charlie Sheen - it is not always so winning to be a fricking rock star from Mars.

I don’t doubt that is so. Celebrities obviously have their problems, and while I’m sure there is some correlation between the size of one’s paycheck and the amount of fun one has, the emptiness of smiling for a living has to weigh upon anysentient being. Famous people are (as Shakespeare knew) people too, subject to the same lowgrade self-doubts and regrets.

On the other hand, Coppola has already made one near-great movie about the stupefaction that attends cloistered luxury - it’s called Lost in Translation and like Somewhere it involves a Neverland hotel and a beast who longs for beauty.

And while all genuine artists can hope to do is repeat themselves in witty ways, I’m not sure why Coppola needed to go over this same ground again in nearly the same way. Somewhere has its beautiful shots - courtesy of the matter-of-fact documentary-style eye of cinematographer Harris Savides - and a few charming scenes, but all it really does is certify Coppola’s sensitivity and command of the form. She paints well, but her subjects are banal - and she means to make banality her point. I get it. Next.

Somewhere stars Stephen Dorff as Johnny Marco, a Ferrari movie star of some scale,encamped in the Chateau Marmont, an infamous hotel in West Hollywood (where John Belushi died). We don’t know exactly why Marco is living in the hotel, only that he’s a bored and mildly decadent hedonist, estranged from the mother of his 11-year-old daughter, Clio (Elle Fanning).

When Clio arrives at his hotel, her presence does little to impede his lifestyle. And she turns out to be neither the precocious little freak or needy damaged thing we might expect. Instead she is a good companion, an obedient, tranquil child who puts no pressure on her father to grow up.

What’s best about Somewhere is this central relationship, believable and warm. Clio is the perfect accessory for Marco, and she also provides him a kind of moral ballast. She doesn’t prevent him from doing grownup things, but she does remind him of a more real world outside his suite. There is a beautiful moment toward the end where Johnny and Clio are serenaded by one of those eccentrics you often see on the periphery of celebrity - an aging minstrel of no particular musical expertise who nevertheless plucks and croaks his way through a halting version of the Elvis Presley hit “Teddy Bear.”

While Johnny smiles sweetly at the guy, a man for whom he obviously has real affection, Clio falls asleep, her head on her father’s shoulder. It’s the sort of magic vignette the movies now and then produce. And had the movie ended there I might have loved it.

But it goes on, unspooling in a way that’s utterly absurd and completely predictable to viewers conversant with the ’70s cinema of listlessness and the odd-numbered movies of Gus Van Sant.

What bothers me most about Somewhere is not the nothingness of its protagonist but the cheats Coppola employs - she gives us hints of impending drama that ultimately evaporate rather than resolve. At times I felt she was leaning on a kind of emotional nepotism - she is a Coppola, after all - to suffuse her movie with a kind of melancholy freightedness unearned by the script, the performances of the actors or even the wide blue (and significantly empty) Los Angeles skies. Like Lost in Translation, it has about it the scent of autobiography; it teases us with details, with snapshots of countries we’ll never visit. That, the movie implies, we’re better off not knowing.

More than anything else, Somewhere reminds me of a rather pathetic book self-published 30 years ago by Cornelius “Sonny” Vanderbilt Whitney (who was, among other things, one of the financiers behind the movie version of Gone With the Wind and one of the producers of John Ford’s The Searchers) called Live a Year With a Millionaire that reveals the utter banality of its author’s inner life. While Coppola is more self-aware than Whitney, and Somewhere is couched as a cautionary rather than celebratory tale, it is ultimately the same sort of drag. A poor little princess’ plaint about the burdens of being special.

Spare us. Make more funny. Make more boom.

MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 03/18/2011

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