Oct 31, 2010

LFF 2010 Review: Somewhere [15]

Dir: Sofia Coppola
Somewhere isn’t just bad; it’s so bad that it makes me wonder whether I’ve previously overrated Sofia Coppola’s other work.

To describe what little occurs here as a story is perhaps giving too much credit but, for the record, the film is about movie star Johnny Marco (Dorff). He’s in his mid thirties, clearly very successful and famous, and lives in the Chateau Marmont. One day Marco’s 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Fanning) shows up; her Mother has gone out of town, so she’s going to stay with Johnny. And that’s it, that’s the entire movie, and by God it’s tedious.

Coppola’s first film; The Virgin Suicides, had a lovely, drifting, dreamlike style, it wrapped you up in the feeling of the film so it didn’t really matter that at a story level there was very little going on. That’s not the case with Somewhere, rather than creating a feeling for the film it often seems as though Coppola has plonked her camera down as soon as she’s arrived at a location, and then just left it to run. There is no better example of this than the film’s opening shot, in which we get to watch Marco’s Ferrari zoom around a desert track. Unfortunately, the camera never moves, so the car is in frame for about half a second on each of its several circuits, while for the rest of the time we get to look at a blank, featureless desert. It’s an apt metaphor for the film really… an ocean of nothing occasionally enlivened by brief incident.

The first half hour of this incredibly long 95-minute film is taken up with establishing how empty and lonely Marco’s life is, and it feels like we live every mindbendingly boring second with him. In no less than two scenes we have to watch an entire three-minute routine by a pair of bored looking twin pole dancers (it’s a testament to how dull this film is that even those six minutes aren’t any fun). We watch Marco shower, we watch him check text messages, we watch him sit on his own. It’s all meant to make us feel sorry for him, but I, frankly, had trouble empathizing with the poor depressed multi-millionaire movie star. It may be uncharitable, but my first instinct was to yell “If you’re bored and lonely, get up and DO SOMETHING” at him.

Stephen Dorff (remember him? No, me either) is generally okay as Marco, within the very limited demands of the part. The character is generally so detached that his lack of expression can pass for a decent performance much of the time. However, his limits as an actor become depressingly clear in the film’s one big emotional scene. Dorff isn’t helped by the fact that Marco’s midnight call to his ex-wife, sobbing down the phone, is completely unmotivated, but he’s also pretty terrible in that moment.

Happily, there is one thing in Somewhere that compensates to some degree for the rest of the film, and that’s Elle Fanning. Like her older sister, Fanning is a consistently impressive and mature child actress and here she’s got her highest profile role yet. Coppola does seem to work well with actresses, and from Fanning she gets an incredibly natural performance. Her relationships to the other actors work well, whether it’s the initially slightly distant, but continuously warming, relationship she has to her Father or the nicely understated way she reacts when one of Johnny’s girlfriends asks over breakfast if she’s got a boyfriend. There’s also none of that slightly eerie mini adult quality that Dakota Fanning has; this is very much a kid being a kid. Fanning energises the film a little, whenever she in it the whole is at least bearable, even if she’s always far better than what’s around her.

The main problem with Somewhere is its length, as a half hour short it might have been fine, but at 95 minutes Coppola is visibly stretching it out, and I felt every last second. Shots seem to go on forever (a minute of a slow zoom on Johnny sitting under a plaster face cast, the aforementioned pole dancing), whole scenes are given over to the laughably inconsequential (watch as a man and his daughter play a whole song on Guitar Hero) and nobody except for Cleo develops any real personality to mitigate against the vast acres of nothing unfolding on screen. Come the blessed relief of the ending there’s no real payoff. The emotional moment that you’re waiting for between Dad and Daughter is the exact same moment you get at the end of Lost in Translation and the final shot revels in symbolism so obvious and cheap that it feels like Coppola shouting “GET IT?” through a megaphone directly into your ear.

Somewhere will have its defenders, they’ll likely claim that the film is lyrical, deep and patient. You may think so too, personally, I found it shallow, boring endlessly long and nigh insufferable, Elle Fanning’s performance is just about the only reason I didn’t walk out. Somewhere? Try Somewhy.

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