Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning
Running Time: 1 hr 32 mins
Release Date: December 22, 2010 (Chicago)
PLOT: A marquee-topping Hollywood actor (Dorff) spends some rare time with his daughter (Fanning) before she is shipped off to summer camp.
WHO’S IT FOR? While Dorff does have movies like Blade and Alone in the Dark on his resume, Somewhere is a much, much better fit for an art house than a multiplex. Those who are familiar with most other movies by Sofia Coppola will be relatively prepared for what Somewhere has in store.
EXPECTATIONS: Simply because it was the new movie from Sofia Coppola, I abstained from viewing any trailers, and left my dusty memories of Lost In Translation at the screening room door.
Stephen Dorff as Johnny Marco: Is Stephen Dorff a talented actor, or a photogenic guy who got lucky? This is the question that Somewhere asks, and Dorff himself is fine with putting himself as the inquiry’s center subject. The movie makes little effort to steer away from presenting our ideas of what Dorff’s life/career must be like, including appearances in schlocky action movies like “Deadly Agenda.” His appearance in the movie, always stinking of cigarettes and grunging up his look with faded punk shirts, is as if Dorff just walked on set from his own Somewhere-like life. The film’s demand for expressive acting is met head-on by Dorff, who doesn’t just mirror his own made self-image, but improves on it with some commendable work. To answer the film’s question, yes, Dorff’s got the chops.
Elle Fanning as Cleo: Carted around by her movie star dad or neglectful mother, Cleo’s tragic characteristic is that she feels like she knows her place in the world. While selfish acts by her parents quietly affect her, she rarely speaks up, standing as the near irrevocable damage that has been done. Fanning’s supporting performance is meek yet effective.
TALKING: Dialogue is not a primary focus for Somehwhere. Whole sequences move without the characters saying anything, thus making the silence within certain scenes the most important factor. When the characters of Somewhere do speak, the sentences are as minimal as possible, and more exact to the soft-spoken, little-to-say ways of people like Johnny Marco. (In a strange way, Chris Pontius’ character might have the most dialogue). When Johnny and Cleo go to Italy, not a single subtitle is provided for entire interactions. This right choice unites the film’s audience with its characters in the feeling of being in strange land.
SIGHTS: This film breathes wonderfully on its marriage of two important cinematic elements – compelling static cinematography, and editing that has frame by frame precision. That being said, these two make for the least dysfunctional/most harmonious pair of the film, and provide greatly towards the film’s potential to fascinate. With a vacuous L.A as the film’s backdrop, scenes unravel in long takes, sometimes relying solely on Johnny Marco’s expressions.
SOUNDS: With Somewhere’s depiction of Los Angeles comes the film’s stance on “perfection” vs. imperfection. Mega produced hits like the Foo Fighters’ “My Hero” or Gwen Stefani’s “Cool” are used to accompany performances that are intensely choreographed, either by Johnny’s paid twin strippers or his daughter’s ice-skating recital practice, respectively. Bare bones songs, sometimes performed quite imperfectly, are used in moments that provide glimpses of an intimate heart that seems to be fleeting from this father and daughter. A demo version of the Strokes tune “You Only Live Once” plays beautifully over the couple’s most joyous moment, while a hotel worker/amateur guitar player serenades them with a sloppy song about being someone’s teddy bear. The Somewhere soundtrack is bookended by clever songs from Phoenix, whose surprising score is barely used.
BEST SCENE: Both aforementioned simple songs provide oasis of comfort that’s struggled for throughout the movie. Johnny feels it, and the audience does to.
ENDING: Just walk away.
QUESTIONS: Am I correct in hearing that the script for this movie was only fourty-four pages long? Huh.
REWATCHABILITY: My fears of the film losing its effect on a second viewing were denied when I took another look at Somewhere, an experience that was about as transfixing as the first.
Somewhere is a work by someone (or a Coppola) who understands a camera’s potential in framing familiarized territory, while also being aware of how long to hold a shot before its artful potential becomes exhausted, if not extinct. Its chronological and spare story is conveyed with the urgent naturalism of a documentary, with all of the extra weight cut out. It’s an astonishingly real movie, which might explain why it’s so hypnotic.
The visual spaciousness (not pretentiousness) of Somewhere creates a lot of questions that are contained tightly by a director in control of all corners of her film. In the hands of someone else, this could have been a disaster. But there’s so much beauty and mystery in Somewhere that you can’t help but get lost in it.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10