Somewhere film review

29 December 2010

Written by: Renee Tibbs

Sofia Coppola brings her latest work to screen with Somewhere, winner of the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival. It’s the story of a Hollywood superstar who is in a transient state between here, there and the titular somewhere.

Similar to her previous works surrounding young women at the forefront of adulthood and responsibility (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette), Somewhere sees a slightly older male character dancing around these same ideas. The film centres around Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), whose life is an endless array of parties, booze, girls and sex. Shut up in the infamous Chateau Marmont (a noteworthy character in itself, the legendary location of decades of Hollywood debaucheries), Johnny lives a very simple and restrained life. Occasionally he shows commitment to his work and his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) when her mother drops her by. But there seems to be a lack of meaning and significance to it all until Cleo appears.

Johnny and Cleo make an odd couple, however, their chemistry is palpable and they are endearing as father and daughter. Scenes such as the pair  eating ice cream in bed together are charming, cute and moving.

Dorff (a renowned Hollywood bad boy) all too convincingly plays superstar Johnny Marco with a James Dean-esque feel. Racing his Ferrari around town, he channels the insular Dean, slowly attempting to reconcile equilibrium through his work and his relationship with his daughter.  Fanning is also wonderful as the young Cleo. She convincingly plays the object of Johnny’s affection, providing reciprocally unconditional love. However, it is Johnny’s previous absences that trouble the future of his relationship with his daughter, and drives the film to its very emotional conclusion.

Family absence and disconnection are not necessarily portrayed as the pitfalls of fame, yet a connection can be made. Johnny’s existence is somewhat nomadic.  He roams around the Chateau Marmont without much purpose, even falling asleep in the act of being with another model-type creature. While there are moments of glamour, more frequent are the moments of loneliness and emptiness with barely any dialogue. This makes scenes with even a few lines of dialogue all the more significant.

Despite the minimal dialogue, Coppola manages to impress with these intriguing themes and postcard type imagery. Her aesthetic style here is as strong as ever, although it differs significantly from her last piece, the lavish and opulent Marie Antoinette. Kudos should also be paid to cinematographer Harris Savides in creating this aesthetic ‘postcard look.

Somewhere is many things: coming of age story; an insider portrait of a Hollywood life (from someone who well and truly knows!), and a love story.  Coppola is a subtle filmmaker who has created a portrait of Hollywood that focuses on the quiet times of the rich, famous and popular, and ponders the idea of ‘where do we go from here?’ With rich themes and a moving musical score from Phoenix, Somewhere is humble, touching, poignant and meaningful.

James Madden completed his Bachelor of Arts at La Trobe University, majoring in Cinema and Media Studies. He also blogs at Film Blerg, where this review was originally published.