Whereas Sofia Coppola’s directorial breakthrough, Lost in Translation, featured two lonely souls rattling about in a Tokyo hotel, her latest film, Somewhere, features one lonely soul holed up in a Californian hotel, and isn’t half so good.
Whereas Sofia Coppola’s directorial breakthrough, Lost in Translation, featured two lonely souls rattling about in a Tokyo hotel, her latest film, Somewhere, features one lonely soul holed up in a Californian hotel, and isn’t half so good. It’s not bad. It’s not hateful. It’s not evil. You won’t want to hunt it down and bring it to trial. But a second film about ennui suffers from ennui itself. And I’m not sure I can buy into the ‘emptiness of celebrity’ shtick any more. I wouldn’t mind being an empty celebrity. At least, then, I could drive my emptiness around in a nice car and get someone else to park it for me. As it is, I’m driving my emptiness around in a 14-year-old Honda with only one wing mirror. Where is the joy in that?
Our empty celebrity here is Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), an A-list action star who drives his emptiness around in a throaty Ferrari and lives at Chateau Marmont, the fabled faux-French hotel on Sunset Boulevard where Howard Hughes lived and both John Belushi and Helmut Newton died. This is a place of casual decadence, impromptu corridor parties and young women who go about bare-breasted.
Anyway, as the film opens we find Johnny laid up with a broken wrist, and even though he’s attended by a parade of pretty, eager girls, as well as twin pole dancers who set up shop in his bedroom, he cannot be entertained. He tries, gamely, but does not have it in him. Instead, he gazes out blankly, wearily. There is only so much casual decadence you can take, obviously. But then his ex does a bunk, leaving him to look after their 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning). Will she shake him from his disengaged torpor? Cleo is a surprise. She is not troubled or needy or doe-eyed, as you might expect. She is sweet-natured, delightful and not censorious of her father’s excesses. She is also true and alive to the world. Can her father catch some of this for himself?
On the surface, and aside from a junket to Italy, where the two are put up in a suite with its own swimming-pool — my life should be so empty — nothing much happens. Mostly, Johnny and Cleo piddle about, killing time. They play Guitar Hero. They eat burgers. They do handstands in the pool. This is a film of subtlety and nuance and barely perceptible changes that affect mood anyhow. A simple change of shirt can affect mood. And it’s also a film of stasis. Coppola holds her camera very still for very long periods of time. She holds it on Johnny as he smokes an entire cigarette. She holds it on Johnny’s face while he’s driving in traffic for what seems like a small eternity. This does give the film the feel of a life that is stuck, but it may also severely try your patience. ‘Cut, cut!’ you may well want to cry. But it’s not the longueurs that ultimately undo the film, it’s Johnny’s absolute blankness.
Who is Johnny? Why is he like this? What is he feeling? Coppola gives him no back-story, which is brave, but if we are meant to intuit why he is so disengaged, I failed. It was different with Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, who brought his own back-story to the project, who brought his years of playing louche comic roles, thereby adding an extra layer of depth and anchoring that weariness. But Johnny’s internal emotions are unfathomable. The dialogue, which is minimal, gives no clues. Dorff has a nice face and nice crinkly eyes and nice stubble, but his Johnny doesn’t seem to be much of anything. To make a film like this work memorably you would, I think, need to cast someone like Tom Cruise. It needs that kind of heft.
Somewhere has its funny moments, and its clever moments, but the blankness and passivity of the central character make it peculiarly remote, as if you were watching it from a million miles away. And it doesn’t stick. Like a dream, it is even fading as I’m trying to remember it. This isn’t a bad film, and is probably better and more courageous than most films, plus Elle Fanning is extremely winning, but it is just too distant and uninflected. I don’t even know if there is anything left to say about lonely people in hotels, and where will it end? With Lenny Henry rattling about in a Premier Inn? Then, I think, we must beg Ms Coppola to stop.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated December 11, 2010Tags: Arts reviews, Directors, Film, Francis ford coppolla, Lost in translation, Sofia coppolla, Somewhere