'Somewhere': A Star System, In Need Of A Tweak

Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning and Chris Pontius

hide captionFamily Time: Aimless Hollywood celeb Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff, left) gets a surprise when his seldom-seen daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), shows up for an extended visit; it gives them time to hang out with Johnny's friend Sammy (Chris Pontius), and perhaps to jump-start the star's stalled life.

Merrick Morton/Focus Features

Somewhere

  • Director: Sofia Coppola
  • Genre: Comedy/Drama
  • Running Time: 97 minutes

Rated R for sexual content, nudity and language

With: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Michelle Monaghan, Chris Pontius

(Recommended)

Depending on whether you pity the poor Hollywood celebrity or would kill to have his life, Johnny Marco — the enervated A-list actor at the center of Sofia Coppola's Somewhere — has either arrived, or he's a nowhere man. Holed up at the shabby-chic Chateau Marmont hotel, where hangers-on dressed out of their local thrift store gather for impromptu parties in his suite without asking first, the blitzed Johnny (played just right by Stephen Dorff, who knows this terrain well) peers through a quiescent alcoholic haze at a life he may have chosen but no longer seems his own.

Johnny may have the world at his feet, but he leads a narrow life bounded by ladies willing to disrobe in public to attract his attention. (Among them: blond, leggy twins, identical and paid for, who show up in his room periodically to pole-dance for him in perfect sync.) Between one looker and another comes the brisk telephone voice of his agent (Amanda Anka), summoning him to press junkets, photo shoots and a plaster cast of his head that ages him by a terrifying 30 years. When he's not falling asleep during anonymous sex, Johnny's in his pricey car like the good Angeleno he is, driving who knows where in search of what.

If all this sounds like a low-budget mash-up of La Dolce Vita (or, to aim a little lower, Leaving Las Vegas) it sort of is, though not much the worse for it. After the expensive debacle of Marie Antoinette, Coppola has wisely returned to the scaled-down, sharply observed filmmaking that lent Lost In Translation — in which Bill Murray played another Hollywood celebrity at large (in Japan) without compass — its goofy, wistful charm.

Coppola grew up the itinerant child of Hollywood royalty, and her grasp of this degraded, indeterminately shifting milieu, which includes a brassy side-trip to Italy, is at once precise and too affectionate for satire. Her style has grown both more mature and more boldly experimental. Beautifully shot in a mostly undifferentiated SoCal glow (depression can be more acutely felt in bright sunlight) by cinematographer Harris Savides, the movie has little dialogue and even less music; it's built up through heaped scraps of detail that evoke in funny and frightening ways the aimless drift of Johnny's empty existence.

Michelle Monaghan and Stephen Dorff i i

hide captionCleo's arrival offers Johnny a welcome distraction from a sterile routine of parties, red-carpet promenades and press appearances with a co-star (Michelle Monaghan) who doesn't particularly care for him.

Merrick Morton/Focus Features
Michelle Monaghan and Stephen Dorff

Cleo's arrival offers Johnny a welcome distraction from a sterile routine of parties, red-carpet promenades and press appearances with a co-star (Michelle Monaghan) who doesn't particularly care for him.

Merrick Morton/Focus Features

Since Marie Antoinette, Coppola has also become a mother (she has two daughters with rocker Thomas Mars), which may be why she bestows on Johnny the gift of a child (the excellent Elle Fanning), whom he has loved from a safe distance until his ex-wife dumps her on him for several days without warning. Given the emotional odds stacked against her, Fanning's Cleo is a remarkably well-adjusted girl who (mostly) takes the world as she finds it, and whose mere presence offers Johnny a domesticity and rhythmic companionship that may or may not stick.

That's it, really, and for some, such finely crafted tragicomedy may be enough. Yet for all the accretion of lovely grace notes — Cleo's unaccompanied float around an ice rink is achingly full of loneliness — Johnny remains an unsatisfying cipher. He doesn't necessarily need our sympathy (many a terrific film has drawn its energies from the fiercely unlikable), or for that matter a more sharply sculpted finale than the ambiguous one Coppola elects to give him.

But he does need to arouse our curiosity about where he goes next. By the end of Somewhere, all I could summon up was a fervent wish-you-well — not for him, but for his beguiling elf of a child.

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