An actor floats through a twilight-like existence at the Chateau Marmont in Somewhere, a contemplative-bordering-on-snoozy film from Sofia Coppola.
Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a movie star — known and loved internationally for his star-ness, though not, it appears, for any compelling personal qualities or even any particular talent for acting. He is living at the Chateau Marmont while doing publicity for one movie and pre-production work on another. (The Chateau Marmont is a character in itself — elegant and luxurious in a way that is old Hollywood and just a touch seedy.) In the movie’s first scene, he falls and injures his arm and has to wear a cast. After one boozy night of partying and women, he wakes up to find his pre-teen daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) signing her name on his cast. She lives with her mother but Cleo and Johnny have a regular hang-out session, which he spends watching her ice skate during private lessons at a local rink. He’s only marginally more an active participant with Cleo than he is in the rest of his life but this is the one time he seems to show some interest in something that isn’t immediate self-gratification.
There isn’t a lot of story here. The movie’s only plot point is that Cleo’s mother unexpectedly drops Cleo off at Johnny’s hotel room to stay for a few days between when she “has to go away” (for some undisclosed personal weariness) and when Cleo is expected at camp. The more time Johnny spends with Cleo, the more he does seem to wake up from his dreamlife.
Here are things this movie does really well:
• The fading glory of this part of southern California, where everything looks just a touch shabbier than it should.
• The strangeness of Hollywood (the industry), as demonstrated in dozens of small details.
• The stylish ennui of Johnny Marco.
• And the way he almost ceases to exist when he isn’t “on” as a Hollywood star.
• And his relationship with Cleo, which is both negligent and loving.
• Cleo, who is shouldering problems beyond her maturity level and who still has childlike fears and needs.
• The general listlessness of things (even, say, blonde twin strippers, who you wouldn’t think would be the personification of boredom, but are).
Sofia Coppola is excellent at noticing things, at capturing a tone and an atmosphere. The frustrations of Johnny Marco, the way his life is both glamorous and depressing, this descends on you, like a thick fog, while you watch this movie. Whether you like Johnny or look down on him or feel sorry for him, this movie makes certain that you get him.
And I did. And I “got” this movie and what she was doing and what she was showing us. But this movie lays on the things you need to “get” very thick. It smothers you with get-it-ness. It makes sure you feel his boredom by boring you, makes sure you feel his unendurable nothingness by making you endure it. You understand how Johnny Marco wants out because you want out.
I’m glad I saw Somewhere. I like Sofia Coppola, I like the way she crafts a film. But I can’t say I enjoyed the experience of sitting through it.
Rated R for sexual content, nudity and language. for Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, Somewhere is an hour and 38 minutes long and is distributed by Focus Features.