Director/Writer: Sofia Coppola
Cinematographer: Harris Savides
Starring: Stephen Doriff, Elle Fanning, Benicio del Toro, Michelle Monaghan, Chris Pontius
Studio/Runtime: Focus Features/97 min.
Sofia Coppola has made ennui the focus of her first four films, including her latest, Somewhere. Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is an actor whose sole purpose is sleeping with whichever beautiful woman he meets, eating good food and enjoying a hedonistic lifestyle that gives him no pleasure. Marco’s expression, whether dealing with the press or meeting a new woman, is always a half-smirk of bemusement, detached from the life he’s chosen and unconcerned with either the movies he’s working on or the parties he attends. Then he’s suddenly left with his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning), who up until then had largely been raised by her mother, and Marco is forced to step outside of himself for once.
Somewhere is largely plotless, but that’s fitting for a character who just drifts from one situation in life to the next. Consciously throwing out the visual bombast of Marie Antoinette, the entire film is shot with long takes focused frequently on backgrounds or unimportant characters, lingering around life in an homage to high modernist European art cinema, in particular Michelangelo Antonioni. Antonioni was the original master of cinematic ennui, so this is fitting, but more importantly the style fits the content of the movie, as languorous shots and measured pacing match a life that’s being lived in slow motion.
Coppola’s film rises above similar efforts by offering its protagonist redemption. Elle Fanning’s performance perfectly captures the joy of life and offers Marco an alternative path which, ultimately, he takes. There’s definite romanticization that he’d be so able and willing to change his life around after the small time he spends with her, but it’s still a beautiful notion. The film’s finale may not ring entirely true, but it’s an honest offering of hope presented in a world that otherwise is just an orgy of meaningless sex and empty relationships.
At times Somewhere can be too considered, both in style and content, and there’s none of the relaxed ease that suffused Coppola’s breakthrough Lost in Translation. But despite the way some of the strings being pulled are frustratingly easy to see, the film can be moving, even if its characters never really move beyond archetypes. Coppola really believed in the content here, and while she needs to tone down her metaphors and return to more realistic characters, her actors believed in her vision just as much as she did and are able to carry it through.