Director: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning
Runtime: 97 mins
It was in 2003 that Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter Sofia emerged as a major new director with her second film, Lost in Translation. Though it made a star out of Scarlett Johansson and turned Bill Murray back into a box-office draw, its success was by no means universal. It was the kind of film that engaged emotionally with some and bored others.
Somewhere begins with a Ferrari being driven in the Mojave Desert, staying out of the shot half of the time but always audible thanks to its noisy engine; it goes round and round in big circles whilst the camera remains distant and completely still. To anyone who complained that “nothing happens” in Lost in Translation, or that Sofia Coppola was self-indulgent, Somewhere makes itself clear fairly quickly that it is about a self-indulgent character suffering from ennui.
Like Bill Murray’s Bob Harris, Stephen Dorff’s Johnny Marco is a bored, despondent movie actor. He lives in a room at the Chateau Marmont Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, where he sleeps with a series of blondes, receives pole dancers and masseuses, and hangs out with his friend Sammy (played by Chris Pontius of the Jackass entourage). For most of the film, Marco has his forearm covered in a cast, and he wakes up one morning to find it being signed by his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning).
Somewhere documents their relationship. In one shot, we pull very slowly away from the pair who are sun bathing by the hotel pool, and for much of the film their lives are thus relaxed, comfortable and ostensibly happy, with Cleo on a kind of holiday away from her mother. It becomes clear however that this carefree world is unsustainable, and it seems that being alone is an intolerable experience for both of them.
The ending quite purposefully declines to offer Johnny and the audience anything more than slight closure, which wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s actually the dullest sequence in the film, failing to uplift, affront or invite curiosity. For many, this issue of why we should be interested in its characters (since they’re not as charming as any of Coppola’s other creations, even if they are more believable) will be of decisive importance; interestingly, it’s important to Johnny as well, who at one point mutters the words “I’m nothing.”
There are richly comic moments throughout the film, some more original than others, which blend obviously constructed, absurd occurrences with a sense of realism. Johnny sporadically receives abusive messages on his Blackberry from a withheld number; it could be an ex-girlfriend, but it could also be a stalking figure that might or might not be following him around in a black SUV. The performances of both Fanning and Dorff are strong, particularly during a wordless exchange of glances at breakfast in Milan with one of Johnny’s lovers.
They spend some time in Milan, where the star is caught off-guard by some of the entertainment industry’s flamboyancies, as he is bombarded by an MTV-style presenter and is surprised onstage at an awards ceremony by a group of female dancers. The funny sequence is in fact much stronger than the obvious culture clash comedy of certain scenes in Lost in Translation, and convincingly suggests that the world of lush hotels, excess and bad television is not exclusive to Los Angeles.