SOMEWHERE (Sofia Coppola, 2010)
Holed up in the famous West Hollywood hotel Chateau Marmont, movie star Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) floats through his days with an abundant supply of cigarettes, alcohol, and women wanting to sleep with him. Occasionally work interrupts his unhurried daily routine, but posing for publicity photos, fielding inane interviews questions, and sitting for a prosthetic mask fitting aren’t the most demanding or energizing tasks.
Johnny is in a rut, and the circumstances encourage him to stay in it. He’s acquired enough fame and money that he can have whatever he wants. By all appearances he doesn’t get much pleasure out of his good fortune, but there could be worse problems to have.
One day his willowy eleven-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) is dropped off at his door. When her mother will return for her is uncertain. Johnny isn’t an uninterested father, but the impression is given that he doesn’t play the role of parent on a regular basis. As he and Cleo hang out, the emptiness in his life becomes more apparent to him.
SOMEWHERE writer-director Sofia Coppola’s body of work explores lives in suspended isolation. This marks her third consecutive film about privileged people living in gilded cages. So it’s fitting that SOMEWHERE opens in the desert with Johnny driving his sports car in circles. The image is an obvious one, yet it’s still an effective and efficient way of conveying the existential crisis nagging the protagonist. Whether it’s the career or race track, Johnny has the means and the horsepower at his service to venture off the courses he’s found himself on. Nevertheless, he can’t or won’t get out of the infinite loops.
Although the film throbs with dissatisfaction and longing for purpose, SOMEWHERE plays as a dryly funny meditation on being adrift in Hollywood. Coppola sympathizes with a movie star’s burdens while observing the absurdity of the profession. Johnny’s presence at the junket roundtable with foreign press seems almost unnecessary as they pepper him with stupid questions yet barely wait for his equally pointless answers. His photo shoot with a co-star puts him through the indignity of being propped up on a board to reach her height. Additionally, both of them have to smile their way through being in close proximity and fake enjoying one another’s company when she clearly resents how he treated her.
The peak of “I get paid for this?” ridiculousness comes as Johnny must sit still for forty minutes while he’s slathered with goop that he waits for it to harden into a mold of his head. The medium shot of him sitting there encased in it highlights the absurdity of it all.
Johnny’s connection with Cleo becomes his life raft and throws into sharp relief how he relates to the women around him. Almost without exception the women he encounters bend over backwards, literally and figuratively, to please him regardless of if he’s shown an interest in them. They don’t need him to be anything more than what they’ve seen on movie screens and in magazines. He doesn’t ask of them to be something beyond outlets for his sex drive.
Cleo’s presence doesn’t erase this behavior in himself or those offering themselves to him, but Johnny slowly awakens to the harmful example he may be setting for the girl who is counting on him to be more than a movie star. In a strong supporting performance, Fanning fills Cleo with unconditional affection for Johnny. It’s possible to understand how the innocence and love beaming from her could shake him out of his static life.
SOMEWHERE doesn’t really earn its ending. Whether it’s the screenplay’s small scale view of the character, Dorff’s limitations, or a combination of both, the resolution feels as though it’s been arrived at too quickly and easily. Regardless, SOMEWHERE finds Coppola mining similar territory and discovering new elements.