Film review: Somewhere

by **

Dear Dad

Somewhere has Sophia Coppola’s fingerprints smeared all over it. Subtle, sensitive and intense, it is weighty with what she likes to call ‘existential crisis’. This, her latest film where she collaborates again with the company with which she produced the award-winning movie ‘Lost in Translation’, is set in contemporary Los Angeles.

Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a Hollywood actor at the height of his fame. He lives a life of extreme decadence — indulging in fast cars (all right, one super fast car), pills, booze and an unlimited supply of sex. Estranged from his 11-year old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), and her mother, he has made the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Hollywood his permanent abode.

The film opens with a shiny black Ferrari revving round and round (and round and round) a track in an arid backblock — the camera stubbornly poised. This two-minute overture weaves a hypnotic spell that is experienced again (and again) as the drama unfolds. You stare interminably at the boot of the car as it heads off Somewhere and you gaze intently at its bonnet as it comes from Somewhere, until you start seeing doubles in a pole-dancing rendition and worse still, convince yourself to be hallucinating on a double-take.

Like you, Marco tries to overcome his boredom (with excess) with yet more excess — think homeopathy. He repeatedly seeks out casual sex even when it is not always stimulating enough to keep him awake and soaks his alcohol-saturated body with even more whisky. This headiness literally reaches a tipping point when he falls forward on a flight of stairs and breaks his wrist. For a good part of the production, he carries the plaster cast around with him like a cross on his back.

In an unnerving sequence, Marco has his face and head totally encapsulated in clay, for a mould to be made. As the camera languidly zooms in, then out, for several minutes, one wonders whether his pent-up hollowness will erupt into an impulsive wrestle to rid himself of the cast (as he does later with the plaster around his wrist). As it turns out, his patience is duly “rewarded” with epiphany.

Then, enters Cleo, whose ice-skating ethereality dazzles even her dazzle-weary father. When her almost screen-absent mother, Layla, takes off, she comes to live with her father before summer camp. After initial reservations with the unaccustomed responsibility, Marco quickly becomes bonded to her — his flesh and his blood — never mind that she is not plagued by paranoia (the SUV following them is just a car, not paparazzi), is an amazing cook (an egg-muffin breakfast with perfect sauce), is tactful (silently boring reproachful stares at her father’s philandering ways) and stunning (“You’re beautiful!”  Marco gasps before they attend, arm-in-arm, an Italian award ceremony). Above all, evidence that she admires her father and tries to please him, is aplenty.

Save for the occasional innocence that peeks through, Cleo’s precocity and finesse sometimes make one forget she is the daughter and not a would-be sweetheart who effortlessly triumphs vice with calculated virtue.

Soon, it is time for Cleo to leave. And, no, there are no prizes for guessing the remaining plot — bleedingly obvious, as it is: Marco comes face to face with the questions of who he is, what he wants to do, where he wants to go. Where, exactly, is Somewhere?

While this film has some of the ambiguous elements of “Translation”, it lacks the enigma and mystic that they engender in the latter. The unexplained source of Marco’s abusive text messages and the unidentity of the second male in their company, put together, intrigue less than Murray’s unheard whispers in Johansson’s ears.

Dorff may possess the scruffy good looks of a famous actor, but his self-indulgent maudlin persona fails to win audience empathy. Studiedly poise, Fanning is bursting at the seams with overflowing talent. Watch that name.

While “Translation” may be an unfair touchstone — it is too beautiful, too witty, too moving — Somewhere proves that the same potter(s) may yield work of varying grades. Winner of the 2010 Gold Lion Best Film, notwithstanding.