There’s a Place for Him

27 Dec

If you want to know what Sofia Coppola’s latest film, Somewhere, is about, the first two minutes provide a handy (and not too subtle) synopsis. In those opening moments, actor Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) drives his Ferrari around and around in a circle, and then finally comes to a stop and realizes how much he’s missing when he gets out of the car and looks around. The real plot of the movie is about how Marco’s life is going nowhere until he’s visited by his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), and he decides to change his self-destructive lifestyle.

The thing is, saying Somewhere has a plot gives the wrong idea of what actually happens in the movie. The answer to that question is not much. Coppola is more concerned with atmosphere and style than actual forward narrative movement, so at many times, it seems like nothing is happening. That’s partly because there’s very little dialogue (one wonders if there was an actual screenplay or if everything was improvised), and partly because it takes a good third or more for the plot to kick in, and for Cleo to show up. And maybe it’s also because the story of a self-destructive actor who finds meaning for his life when he meets or reconnects with a child has been done many times before.

I don’t mean to disparage the movie, though. Or at least, not as much as it may seem. Despite any misgivings I may have about the point of the whole exercise and what point Coppola is trying to make, I still generally liked Somewhere. Dorff gives a very natural performance — which is not to say it’s a stretch or maybe even an actual performance, just that it seems very lived-in — and he and Fanning have some good chemistry. The film looks good, very indie chic, and its minimal scoring lets the action unfold without much emotional orchestration. Coppola’s frequent long takes makes it seem like she just set up the scene and let her actors go to work. As a result, Somewhere often feels like you’re eavesdropping on some private, intimate moments.

I doubt Coppola will ever make a movie as good as Lost in Translation was, and Somewhere doesn’t come close. It would be easy to say the movie goes nowhere, but it deserves a little more credit than that. I’m giving it a B.

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