Sofia Coppola has made a career out of following the existential malaise of the rich and famous (save for Virgin Suicides), so another film by Ms. Coppola within that framework is not a surprise. What is surprising is just how bad it is.
Stephen Dorff plays the famous actor Johnny Marco, whose day consists of random sexual trysts, purchasing pole dancer-grams for himself like a normal person would flip on the television, and being shuffled around for various promotional events by publicists and chauffeurs. Upon spending an extended amount of time with his eleven year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning), Marco is confronted by his vapid existence.
Which sounds interesting until you see how it’s executed. In a supreme display of hubris, Coppola takes the audience’s attention for granted not merely by showing the monotony of Marco’s day, but by making us live it. The film’s static opening shot, Marco making several laps in his black Ferrari, is indicative of events to come. To quote my review of Police, Adjective: “Cinema can never be ‘real life’ but is the place for the hyper-real, whereby meaning can be tapped from the banality of our own existence.” Editing exists to cut the fluff, but Coppola’s abuses of the long take go unchecked.
I take umbrage with the film’s presentation, but there are some interesting bits: the juxtaposition between Marco’s womanizing and his relationship with Cleo is deliberately situated to prompt discomfort (punctuated by the visual metaphor of Marko’s arm cast, which starts out only bearing the signature of his daughter, but over time accumulates lipstick kisses and signatures from his dalliances). We see that such sexual ventures do not actualize male fantasies, but instead only showcase their emptiness. Further, Coppola is competent enough to show, not tell (a common sin of amateur filmmakers) and the film’s ballsy ending, MAJOR SPOILERS in which Marco realizes he’s a vapid shit, is a wink to the audience – “We’re going to show you this monotony and in the end he’ll acknowledge it and do something about it.” Narratively it’s an interesting twist, but the ending doesn’t earn the power of its attempted punch. MAJOR SPOILERS OVER
In the grand scheme of things, Somewhere is like the amalgamation of leftovers from Lost in Translation. Marco’s language-related discombobulation in Italy, and the meaningless nature of his existence, echo the same thematic concerns of Translation–but sans a pulse. Somewhere is the prototypical art film, in which the banality displayed is intended to provide an ethereal truth, but in praxis stalls and dies as a boring, pretentious piece of celluloid meandering.
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