Somewhere

Somewhere
Movie review by Greg Carlson

Sofia Coppola continues her close examination of the liminal in “Somewhere,” a series of snapshot glimpses into the imagined life of a spoiled movie actor confronted with a dread feeling of purposelessness. Few contemporary filmmakers capture the essence of ennui like Coppola, and the often misjudged and underrated stylist faces more than her share of criticism in part because she makes it all look so easy. Some will have a hell of a time sympathizing with a multi-millionaire protagonist whose only non-existential crises revolve around Ferrari engine failure and numbing press junkets, but Coppola shrewdly finds the heart of the movie in a father-daughter relationship that transcends the jet-set glamour.

Stephen Dorff’s Johnny Marco operates in nearly the same Hollywood fantasy universe as Adrian Grenier’s Vincent Chase on the HBO series “Entourage.” Nursing a busted wrist following a woozy, boozy Chateau Marmont staircase tumble, Johnny passes the hours between impromptu parties at the storied hotel by watching twin pole dancers demonstrate routines in his boudoir (as usual, Coppola’s musical selections are impeccable, and a majority of the songs are incorporated diegetically). Coddled and indulged by a steady supply of sycophants, Johnny sleepwalks through a sensualist’s head-trip of compliant, sexually available nymphs.

Johnny’s hazy drift is interrupted by the appearance of his pre-teen daughter Cleo (a tremendous Elle Fanning), who refocuses the playboy’s attention and serves as a catalyst for a series of steps toward adult responsibility and something resembling emotional maturity. Coppola smoothly engineers a believable role reversal in which Cleo’s poise, composure and self-reliance symbolically eclipse the domestically helpless Johnny, perhaps most effectively in a lovely scene in which Cleo carefully prepares a homemade breakfast of eggs Benedict. Later, when Cleo breaks down at the thought of being abandoned by her mother, the audience is as startled as Johnny at this sudden, unexpected reminder of Cleo’s tender age.

Partially trapped by her surname and the privileges that come with dynastic connections to wealth and fame, Coppola will probably have to make a whole bunch of terrific movies to stanch the endless river of criticism invited by her pet themes. “Somewhere,” like “Lost in Translation” and “Marie Antoinette” before it, sticks close to an exploration of ideas rooted in some dimension of autobiography – or so the prognosticators would like to imagine. While Coppola has endured a treadmill of interviews in which she carefully negotiates the intrigue as well as the limits of “sharing” her own life (i.e. the anecdote that she once sampled every flavor of gelato with papa Francis Ford Coppola), it is too narrow to suggest that “Somewhere” is merely about the perils of money and celebrity.

For those cinephile admirers of Coppola, “Somewhere” can be as delightful as the anachronistic pink Chuck Taylor sneakers in “Marie Antoinette.” It is a movie filled with surprises and unafraid to be aridly, bitingly funny and achingly, romantically painful, even if the concluding epiphany doesn’t quite work. Coppola’s movies brim with sly moments that linger in memory long after the viewing experience. From the purposefully prolonged shot of Johnny’s latex-encased head to the perfectly imperfect performance of Cleo’s ice dance set to Gwen Stefani’s “Cool,” “Somewhere” finds plenty of ways to travel almost everywhere.

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 3/28/11.

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