Self-important films about self-important people tend to turn me off. They often lack an emotional core or well-defined characters. So why the intentionally hollow, abstract new Sofia Coppola film “Somewhere” intrigued me as much as it did, I have no idea. It’s surprising, I guess. But it’s also beautiful.
Bearing many similarities to Sofia’s past Oscar-winning work “Lost in Translation”, (primarily the exploration of ennui), “Somewhere” still feels distinctive and fresh. It’s about an actor, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) who couldn’t be less satisfied with the life he lives. He drags himself through his days, aimlessly and endlessly partying and promoting. Pursuing nothing, absorbing everything. It’s only when his 11-year old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning, younger sibling of Dakota) enters his life that Johnny begins to make a change.
“Somewhere” is a movie that says almost nothing. Dialogue is rare and when it occurs, it’s pretty much for characters passing the time. There will often be long stretches of silence where the scene is essentially just of Johnny going through the motions. But these never bore, they only help convey the emotions (isolation, depression) the film wants to sell. It breaks your heart.
As Marco, Stephen Dorff (in his first starring role that I can recall) is appropriately disillusioned. He does a great job carrying the film, at least at face value. I say “at face value” because the real emotional heft of the film lies in little Elle Fanning. See, while the movie may be about Johnny, the most resonant bit of the film is, no doubt, Elle Fanning’s character, Cleo. While she may be the cause for Johnny’s move from his hollow lifestyle, he still breaks her heart. The way Fanning conveys this, through little glances away from her father, through little twitches of her lip, is fantastic.
The score is also worth noting in the film. The French-pop band (and personal favorite of mine) Phoenix picked the songs for this film, and more often than not, they complement the on-screen actions in truly beautiful ways, whether it’s songs by The Strokes, T.Rex, or Phoenix themselves.
“Somewhere” may not be a perfect film, but it’s sure beyond most criticisms I can think of. Though initially cold and distant, the film gradually reveals itself to be something deeper, something more. Something great. A-