Monday, October 1, 2012

Somewhere

Sophia Coppola's SOMEWHERE begins and ends with a Hollywood star du jour named Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) speeding around in his black Ferrari. The opening scene goes on for a few minutes, the car quite symbolically going in circles. In the final scene, the car is parked in a desert; the driver walks away, keys left in the ignition.

Johnny lives in L.A.'s infamous Chateau Marmont hotel, a place with a rich and often sordid history of celebrity excess. Unlike his progenitors, Johnny doesn't trash his room or shoot a bolus of heroin and cocaine into his veins. In fact, he's pretty well behaved for being a household name. He's mobbed by fans at the hotel and abroad, but remarkably never plays the V.I.P. card. Rather, he's extremely disaffected, going through listless days much like anyone else who has few responsibilities. He wanders the halls. Sits on the couch. Stares at the Chateau's ancient walls. In between making movies, he's either dutifully attending photo shoots or fielding questions at press junkets. "Who is Johnny Marco?" reporters ask.

Director/writer Coppola quickly cuts to the next image before Marco can answer that all-but-unanswerable question. How the hell should he know? Him least of all? But he's not a narcissist. He just doesn't seem to care. Barely acknowledges anything. He makes his way through parties with handshakes and nods, seeming to know many, but... All those L.A. hipsters certainly couldn't tell you much about Johnny. There's no depth to anything in his life. Just like when he happens upon Benicio Del Toro in the hotel elevator. Their empty exchange tells us everything.

Being a big star allows Johnny to indulge a series of beautiful women. But he's as bored with them as he is the walls. He hires blonde twin sisters who pole dance in front of them (they bring their own collapsable poles) and watches with what is best described as amusement. One time, he even passes out during their performance. In another key scene, the young man falls asleep while attempting to pleasure a conquest.

Johnny also has an 11 year old daughter named Cleo (Elle Fanning). She shows up at the Marmont on the appointed days. Does Johnny resent the intrusion to his trysts? Welcome it? His face betrays nothing. After Johnny's ex informs him she is taking an extended vacation with no determined return, Cleo begins an extended stay with Johnny.

They have an easy rapport. They're like friends. We see them share gelatto in the middle of the night and play Guitar Hero (to the Police's "So Lonely", no less). Never once does he discipline her, though she's a well behaved kid. He also doesn't explain the woman who joins them at breakfast while in Italy. Cleo's face really says it all in that scene.

Ms. Coppola accurately stated that SOMEWHERE allows the viewer to breathe. It often plays like a beautiful coffee table book, static enough to allow you to drink in all that SoCal sunlight, the shabby chic of the hotel. To watch a 30-something who's become famous go through the paces. Like many before him, he yawns at his privilege. The film just follows him as he showers, drives, eats.

I was initially impatient with this movie, as scene after scene showed, very little. Like a pretentious would-be "art film". Nothing really "happens". There is no portent, no set ups, no payoffs, no "if you introduce a gun in the first act you gotta shoot someone in the third" nonsense. It shows a life, fly on the wall style. All of the images add up to something quietly disturbing. You realize this at the very end and especially the next day. Many films have a collection of great scenes that don't add up to anything. SOMEWHERE is filled with stills that build to a wounded whole. Yes, Johnny finally breaks down and admits he's "nothing." It is not a big scene with a huge catharsis. We've seen it before, but this time we've earned that admission. I think Ms. Coppola's film is one of the best essays on loneliness I've seen in quite a while.

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