Somewhere (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Somewhere (2010)

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ANDREW LIKEThere's a lot of wandering in Sofia Coppola's Somewhere.  There's an awful lot of staring too.  Johnny (Stephen Dorff) spends long stretches of his day just looking at the wall or the floor, at nothing in particular, in the hopes that if he gets the motivation to will something into existence it just might appear.  This is a man on complete autopilot and can barely come to when he's needed for sexual purposes or remembers the drive he used to have.

If it sounds pretty similar to Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation you're not terribly far off.  But the similarities start at the plot and fade out somewhere in the execution.  The leads in Translation were strangers to the people they were supposed to be closest to and were only able to connect in a land that speaks no language that they understood.  Johnny has the opposite problem in that he's surrounded by people that know him too well.  They know who to hire when he needs a bit of late night fun, or what foods he'll eat in the morning, or what kind of car he's going to want to take to his next destination.

Johnny is an actor and he's all but given up putting on any sort of facade outside of his screen-roles.  He's pretty much forgotten who he's supposed to be when he's not acting anyway.  The only time that he's feeling something, anything, is when his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) is visiting him.  Lucky for Johnny that his ex-wife disappears for reasons unknown to himself or Cleo, and he gets to find some time reacquainting some idea of himself.  Anything so long as it means less staring.

Johnny has a tendency to forget who he is until someone steps forward to remind him.

The results, even if they aren't the revelations that The Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation were, are pretty effective.  Stephen Dorff has to shoulder most of this responsibility and he does a pretty good job.  He's clearly far away from his Blade days of overacting (even though he was pretty enjoyable in that) and provides just enough pathos to his moments of isolation that we know he's not ok with the way things are right now.  Elle Fanning, as his daughter, is the only real breath of happiness and energy into his otherwise listless life.

But the cycle of unhappiness is one that's destined to go on forever.  In one insightful and heartbreaking scene she is absolutely fantastic when she realizes that the confusion her adolescence is causing her is going to cycle on to her adulthood, signaled by her perpetually absent mother and father.  Elle Fanning is so good in this moment that it completes an emotional cycle that we never even knew was building the entire film.  But Sofia Coppola has been sensitive to the adolescent needs of young girls in all of her films, and Cleo's scenes with her father (especially those few sad lines in the car) really illustrate this.

I've been in love with Sofia Coppola's movies for a very long time, and she has a style that seems crafted from bits of her father and the other great masters of film which she's fused into her own vision.  From the beginning she's been obsessed with the hazy way we sometimes view our lives as a dream, even when the sadness and emptiness seems so immediate.  Her camera is magnificent, in Somewhere we get just close enough to Johnny to see how isolated he is in each frame, but maintain just enough distance so that he's given the space he needs to work things out.

Elle Fanning does a superb job with Cleo and introduces some much needed life into the film.

Even her manipulation of sound is phenomenal.  In a surreal opening sequence Johnny hires two strippers to perform for him not so much as a sexual function but just to see something different.  Their moves are mechanical, not at all orgasmic, and are accompanied by disconcerting shrieks on the soundtrack as their hands run down each metal pole.  This, amongst other visual and auditory clues Coppola provides, is just not right.

I was also taken aback by how much she was able to evoke by the way she filmed The Chateau Marmont that Johnny stays at.  In many seemingly effortless gestures she recalls some of the same sexual tension and unease of the hotel in Ingmar Bergman's The Silence.  Other moments recall the visual dexterity of Michaelangelo Antonioni and Alain Resnais, but she doesn't wrap her films in the needless puzzles of those two directors.  She wants to communicate something on the level of the lives that we live daily, not in a half-remembered puzzle house of gardens and statues.

For that, and for many other reasons, Sofia Coppola is slowly becoming one of the greats.  Somewhere is a very effective examination of a man who has too much and can't reach out to anyone willing to say otherwise ("Why don't you try volunteering or something?")  Many thanks to her because she can look straight down into despair without despairing herself, and manages to share some of that resilience with the rest of us.

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Somewhere (2010)

Written and directed by Sofia Coppola.
Starring Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning.

Posted by Andrew

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