The opening scene of Somewhere is a fixed-camera shot of the middle section of what looks like a dirt car racing circuit. A black Ferrari comes in and out of shot as the driver progresses along the track anti-clockwise. You wait, the car completes a circuit and goes in and out of shot again. And again…
It’s intriguing waiting for something to happen…but nothing does. Unfortunately, this opening scene prefigures the rest of the movie: slow-moving, poetic in intent, but going nowhere and ultimately a letdown.
Turns out the black Ferrari belongs to the central character, movie star Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff). And the driving round and round in his lux toy is a metaphor for his life, which is pampered and full of indulgences, but repetitive and empty. There are long sequences in which he sits around by himself in the comfort of his room at the legendary Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood, smoking, drinking, and staring into space in between making phone calls, having random sex with movie star groupies, and falling to sleep during a languorously shot (and largely gratuitous) private pole-dancing performance by two blonde bombshell twins.
The only respite from this apparently meaningless existence is his sweet 11 year-old daughter Cleo (delightfully played by Elle Fanning). When her mother drops her off for an extended stay, Johnny perks up. He and Cleo clearly have great affection for each other, but there is a tentativeness between them, no doubt due to their not having spent a lot of time together.
The rest of the movie focuses on their relationship, and Johnny’s attempts to incorporate Cleo into his endless hotel-hopping rounds of promo engagements for his next movie, while hiding from her the R-rated elements of his lifestyle.
It’s all very slow-moving, arty, indie blah blah. Not quite tedious, but far from enthralling, either. The movie ends with another ‘poetic’ moment that alludes to its opening, but ungrounded by any sense of ‘reality’ and unmitigated this time by intrigue at what might be to come. We’ve waited faithfully for the movie to get ‘somewhere’, and ended up without much reward for our patience.
In writing Somewhere, director Sofia Coppola drew on memories of her own childhood as the daughter of a famous movie-director father living in deluxe hotels. However, as any good writer knows, the stuff of life does not necessarily translate to art per se. Coppola seems to have lost sight of this, and the result is an indulgent movie that falls far short of the career high water mark set by her brilliant and emotionally devastating Lost In Translation. Yes, the high expectations that accompany a new Sofia Coppola release are an albatross around her neck, but comparisons with Lost are inevitable, especially with any movie set in hotel rooms and dealing with existential crises.
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