Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Chris Pontius, Michelle Monaghan, Lala Sloatman, Amanda Anka, Ellie Kemper, Laura Chiatti
Written by: Sofia Coppola
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, nudity and language
Running Time: 97
Date: 09/03/2010
IMDB

Somewhere (2010)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Class Act

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

People may view Sofia Coppola as spoiled and privileged, the daughter of Hollywood royalty who stumbled into filmmaking after trying and abandoning several other careers. Her films are not exactly plot-driven, which can further drive people crazy. I suspect that critics and viewers come to her films with a chip firmly planted on their collective shoulders, and not even a masterpiece from Coppola could change their mind. Either way, once you get right down to it, she's one of the most ferociously talented filmmakers working today, and she has indeed delivered masterpieces in her short career.

It's true that she makes movies about wealthy or upper-class people, but she finds ways to burrow into their souls and find their innermost sadness; these feelings are universal, despite the economic background. Very often they manifest themselves in terms of being bored and/or stuck, as in Lost in Translation (2003) and Marie Antoinette (2006), and how the right soul at the right time can open one's heart.

In Somewhere, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a successful Hollywood actor living in the Chateau Marmont. He drifts through his days drinking, smoking, indulging in sex, sleeping, going to parties, occasionally dealing with his publicist and generally trying to stave off sadness and boredom. When his ex-wife suddenly drops off their daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) for an indefinite stay, Johnny slowly begins to understand that family may be more important than his career and all its perks. But now that he has made this discovery, how can he change his life?

The new movie is sparser and moodier than those previous Sofia Coppola entries, and with less humor; Dorff is no Bill Murray, nor is he meant to be. Murray disguised his sadness with jokes and quips, and this character uses sex, drinking, and partying for the same purpose. Somewhere is the opposite of Lost in Translation in many ways; there's hardly any dialogue at all. Instead, Coppola conjures up several canny visual themes that repeat, starting with a plaster cast that Johnny wears on his arm throughout. The first person to sign it is his daughter; later, during a press conference about his new movie, he ignores several inane questions about the movie's themes, and gladly answers one about who signed his cast.

Coppola does far more subtle things, such as using slow zoom-ins for moments of being trapped, and zoom-outs for moments of finding a way out. One striking sequence has Johnny showing up so that make-up artists can make a plaster cast of his head. He must sit in a chair with his head in the cast until it dries, and Coppola leaves the camera on him for an amazingly long time, just listening to his breathing. There's also a striking opening scene, in which Johnny, in his sports car, races around a track several times, stuck in a nearly endless loop.

The movie may sound Antonioni-esque, but it also has its funny moments, like the dual appearances of twin, blond pole dancers (Kristina and Karissa Shannon) that perform for Johnny in his hotel room, or the male masseuse that works in the buff. Coppola also adopts a theme of watching, just as we in the audience are watching the film. Johnny often finds himself watching, and doing things passively, even when he takes his daughter skating early in the film. It's only when he slowly discovers his connection with her that he begins to do things actively.

I love Somewhere for the way it captures a poetic mood in each scene, and for the way the seemingly random scenes always fold back upon one another and reference each other. Almost every scene of Johnny's pathetic life has an equal or opposite scene with more warmth and hope. For all its wandering, this is a very deliberate, masterful, and ultimately very touching movie.