Film Review: Hollywood party boy interrupted by life in 'Somewhere'

Elle Fanning stars as Cleo, the 11-year-old daughter whose arrival changes the life of Stephen Dorff's Hollywood playboy.

Merrick Morton/Focus Features

Elle Fanning stars as Cleo, the 11-year-old daughter whose arrival changes the life of Stephen Dorff's Hollywood playboy.

I never expected "Somewhere" -- the fourth feature film directed by Sofia Coppola -- to reach Memphis theaters.

The movie debuted in September at the Venice Film Festival, where -- to the disgust of quite a few naysayers -- it won the top prize, the Golden Lion. It opened in some U.S. markets in December to qualify for the Academy Award nominations it didn't receive, but it never generated much buzz, unlike Coppola's previous films, "The Virgin Suicides," "Lost in Translation" (who wasn't buzzed by that opening shot of Scarlett Johansson?) and "Marie Antoinette."

"Somewhere" is a witty, moving, and empathetic look into the orbit of actor Johnny Marco. You have probably seen him in the tabloids; Johnny is ...

Rating: R for sexual content, nudity and language

Length: 98 minutes

Released: December 22, 2010 Limited

Cast: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Chris Pontius, Laura Ramsey, Robert Schwartzman

Director: Sofia Coppola

Writer: Sofia Coppola

More info and showtimes »

The reaction is no surprise. More so than Coppola's previous movies, "Somewhere" -- even the title is vague and unenlightening -- is an American version of a European art film. Much of the movie consists of long takes of static shots; the camera pushes in toward the hero exactly twice, and, in the context of this film, those moments seem more demonstrative than a robot attack in a "Transformers" sequel. No wonder the words that recur in the negative reviews on the movie's page at RottenTomatoes.com include "tedium," "vacant," "superficial" and "ennui."

As for me? Yeah, I liked it, quite a lot.

Like Coppola's previous films, but stripped of what the writer-director perhaps thought of as the distractions of plot and emotional char- acterization, "Somewhere" examines the isolation of privileged public people -- people surrounded by both the exposing fishbowl of celebrity and the protective bubble of entitlement.

Cultural dislocation is another Coppola theme. "Lost in Translation" -- the title provides a key to the filmmaker's ideas -- followed a movie star (Bill Murray) in a bewildering Japan. "Marie Antoinette" was the story of an Austrian princess shipped off to the royal court in France. In "Somewhere," the movie-star protagonist travels to Italy, where his Hollywood cool (not to mention his "Made in USA" tattoo) is overwhelmed by Mediterranean vivacity and generosity.

"Somewhere" is a few-days-in-the-life portrait of that young star, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), whose life at the luxury Chateau Marmont hotel on Sunset Boulevard -- itself something of a foreign land -- is interrupted, for a time, by the arrival of his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota). Cleo's regal name reminds us not just of "Marie Antoinette" but of the fact that Coppola herself comes from a Hollywood royal family, being the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, director of "The Godfather."

Before Cleo's arrival, Johnny spends most of his time doing more or less nothing. He parties with his longtime hanger-on best buddy (Chris Pontius, who in one scene wears a "Tennessee Vols" shirt). He drives fast cars. He injures his wrist, which remains covered by a cast through most of the movie. The damage doesn't discourage women from offering themselves to him; they bare their breasts, as if in tribute. When they don't approach him, he brings them in; he watches a pair of blond twins in pink waitress uniforms perform on stripper poles in his room, to a Foo Fighters song about heroes.

Occasionally, Johnny works. He attends a press junket, and at one point he receives a phone message that few of us ever will hear: "They're waiting for you at the special effects studio. They need to do a mold of your head."

Cleo arrives as something of a godsend, for Johnny and the movie. She is beautifully played by Fanning, who is at the perfect moment -- for the film's purposes -- of presexual, incipient-adolescent skinniness and enthusiasm. She ice skates and cooks. She plays Guitar Hero with her father to a recording by The Police, so we hear Sting repeating a chorus that might have been pulled from Johnny's head: "So lonely, so lonely, so lonely ..."

Yet the movie, for the most part, is refreshingly untragic. In one scene, the crying Johnny declares himself "nothing ... not even a person," but this rather banal observation about this particular poor little rich boy probably should have been left in the cutting room. (In any case, the "not a person" notion is suggested more effectively when Johnny's face is literally obliterated by a pound of goo at the effects studio.) We noncelebrities like to comfort ourselves with ideas about the poisonous price of fame, but Johnny seems neither more nor less messed up than anybody else. He's a type Coppola knows well, but he's no stranger to the rest of us. He's not just somewhere -- he's everywhere.

"Somewhere" is at Malco's Ridgeway Four.

-- John Beifuss: 529-2394

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Comments » 1

cooperyoungsounds writes:

Oh Mr. Beifuss. I trust your judgment on most films, but this was torturously boring. What a horrid, vapid, empty film void of any meaning or entertainment value. I encourage your readerst to find something else to do with their day than to see this awful, awful movie. The worst experience I've had in the movies in YEARS. Thumbs waaay down.

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