REVIEW: Sofia Coppola Brings a Delicate Touch, and Sure-Handed Precision, to Somewhere
Some of those who have already written about Sofia Coppola's Somewhere have categorized it, in a kind of lazy shorthand, as a movie about the "emptiness of celebrity." But Somewhere is really a Western -- a Western without cactuses or rocks or horses, but one that, even so, takes place under a special kind of sunlight found only in L.A., in an environment that's wild and ruthless under its veneer of civilization. The character of the land means everything in Somewhere: Wide boulevards lined with palm trees make for an illusory endless frontier; giant billboards advertise nothing in particular -- they're big because they can be. This is a place where you can lose your way without even taking a wrong turn, and sure enough, the hero of this particular story is a man who has temporarily lost himself. Still, the city's beauty -- either sitting in plain sight under the sizzling noon sun or semi-hidden in the dusk -- is peculiar and specific and alluring. L.A. -- and the idea of Hollywood, if not the actual neighborhood -- is heartless and fabulous. It's a place to really be a man -- or not.
Coppola is often discussed, tacitly or explicitly, as a "girly" director. She refuses to punish Marie Antoinette for her crimes against the poor (which were a myth anyway) and instead grants the ill-fated queen a moment of posthumous delight in the form of a pair of pink Converse sneakers; she sympathizes strongly with a young woman who feels strange and lost in Japan, but also has the temerity to treat the language barrier as a joke. (Forget that in Lost in Translation, Coppola made it clear that the differences between Japanese and American culture produce frustration and confusion on both sides.) As filmmakers go, she's not a man's woman, like Kathryn Bigelow; she's treated as more of an exclamation mark dotted with a little heart.
But Coppola has the most delicate touch of any filmmaker currently working in America, which is not to say that her pictures are in any way soft: She's disciplined and precise in a way few young filmmakers are. (It makes more sense to compare her with someone like Hou Hsiao-hsien than to any of her Hollywood contemporaries.) And Somewhere is her finest movie yet, a picture so confident and assured -- and in the end, so unself-consciously wrenching -- that, despite its quiet subject matter and Coppola's deceptively low-key approach, it's thrilling to watch from moment to moment.
Stephen Dorff is Johnny Marco (a name that's less 2010 than it is 1962) an action-movie star who has holed himself up in the Chateau Marmont. This isn't a home away from home -- there's clearly no home for Johnny, in his wardrobe of scruffy rock and roll T-shirts and his even scruffier chin stubble, to be away from. It's the place where he passes his days and nights in a desultory blur: His days are broken up by significant events, like the arrival of bored-looking yet proficient pole-dancing twins (they come to his room to perform for him, their gym equipment ingeniously folded up into small duffel bags -- these are small-businesswomen on the go) or a snooze-interrupting call from his publicist to alert him that he's due at a press conference in, say, 10 minutes (he's showered and dressed in a flash, though his ablutions barely seem to make a difference).
Unceremoniously -- there's no ceremony in Somewhere, only random, unannounced, everyday minutes -- his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), shows up in his room. He's asleep when she arrives -- he awakens to find her putting her Jane Hancock on his cast. (Johnny has been injured doing a stunt -- "I do all my own stuntwork," he announces proudly at one point, as if anyone around him really cared.) Cleo has been dropped off by her mother, Johnny's foreboding ex (played by Lala Sloatman), who admonishes him not to get her home too late. It appears he's forgotten he was supposed to see her in the first place.
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