Somewhere (2010): Sofia Coppola’s Moody Feature, Starring Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning

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After making the disappointing big-budget studio movie, “Marie Antoinette,” the gifted Sofia Coppola is back on terra firma with “Somewhere,” a more intimate and personal feature, centering on two characters, an actor-father and his young daughter, splendidly played by Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning.

Our Grade: B (*** out of *****)

Somewhere
Somewhere Poster.jpeg

Theatrical release poster

 

A winner of the Golden Lion Award for Best Picture at the 2010 Venice Film Fest, “Somewhere” will be released by Focus Features December 22 in a platform mode.
Photo: Sofia Coppola with John Waters
Sofia Coppola is nothing if not a versatile filmmaker. Each one of her four films over the past decade has been entirely different in theme, style and mood. I have followed her career closely from the very beginning, having reviewed for Variety her impressive feature debut, “The Virgin Suicides,” when it premiered in Cannes Film Fest in 1999, in the Directors Fortnight section.
 
Overall, of her four films to date, “Lost in Translation,” which was nominated for several Oscars and won for Coppola the Best Original Screenplay, is the strongest one. But each one of her features, including the weakest one, “Marie Antoinette,” has some merits.
 
Nominally, by standards of mainstream cinema, “Somewhere” is plotless—not much happen by way of action or events. Though the feature is minimal in terms of characters–only two–Coppola is not interested in the psychology, motivations, or past of her protagonists.  The picture, whose narrative duration is rather short, is about the here and now.
 
What she is interested in—and excels at—is attention to detail, sharp observational powers, non-judgmental approach to “deviant” lifestyles, smoothly seductive visual style (courtesy of ace lenser Harris Savides), and establishing the right tone for a tale, which in its good moments is sweet, melancholy, and even lyrical.
 
Unlike her previous movies, “Somewhere” is stronger in subtext than text, and it’s the kind of film that continues to linger in memory long after the viewing in specific images rather than ideas.
 
With the exception of one chapter in Milano, most of the tale is set in and around the famous (and infamous) hotel, Chateau Marmont (right off Sunset Boulevard), where the actor Johnny Marco, the tale’s (anti) hero resides. (It’s a neighborhood I know well; my first house in L.A. was on Marmont Avenue).
In the first scene, Marco is in bed, drugged or semi-drugged, watching, but not particularly interested in, two twin strippers perform in his room. When he falls asleep during the spectacle, the two blonde girls pack their equipment and leave, and we get the feeling that it has happened before.
Marco’s low-key existence is defined by being comfortably numb, drifting along with (or without) the help of pills and various available girls. Women around the pool or neighbors of his throw themselves at Marco, but sex is not exactly a priority for him.
Occasionally, he leaves the hotel and drives around town in his Ferrari. One such outing is to a press conference in the Four Seasons Hotel, during which he is inarticulate and clearly not interested in talking to the press.
Things beginning to change slowly, when his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning), a product of his failed marriage, arrives unexpectedly at the Chateau.   A telephone call from his ex-wife informs Marco that he needs to take care of Cleo for a while, and among other chores, will have to take her to summer camp.
The encounters between dad and his daughter, which form the emotional center and the best part of the narrative, result in a mid-life crisis, though not a sudden or melodramatic one.  Getting to know his daughter, her needs, and her wishes, encourage Marco to reassess his lifestyle and make some fateful decisions about his future. But none of it is discussed or verbalized or analyzed in psychological or psychoanalytic terms, and Coppola should be given credit for that.
Visually, in its smooth and sophisticated style, “Somewhere” recalls European art films (specifcally those by Wim Wenders), and I mean that as a compliment. This is especially the case of the beginning and ending of the film, which some critics (not me) may find as pretentious and too allegorical. In the very first shot, Marco is seen driving his Ferrari in circles in the desert. I cannot describe the closure, because it discloses too much and will kill the fun.  
Shot entirely on location, in L.A. and Italy, “Somewhere” reunites the Coppola with “Lost in Translation” editor Sarah Flack and production designer Anne Ross, both of whom help evoke the right mood.
Special kudos go to the brilliant cinematographer Harris Savides, who has shot several of Gus Van Sant’s films, including the 2002 Cannes Fest Palme d’Or winner, “Elephant. Savides’ incredibly flexible and dynamic camera is performing marvels in both the exterior and interior sites (a major challenge considering how tiny the space is).
Stephen Dorff, in his 40s now, is still handsome, but in a cool, rugged way.   Tall (with extremely long legs) for her age, and extremely photogenic, Elle Fanning (Dakota’s sister) is a natural for the camera.  Rendering low-key, understated, and naturalistic performances, both Dorff and Fanning are very well cast, establishing an extremely strong chemistry–just watch the way that they look at each other.  Singly and jointly, they turn a small film like “Somewhere” into an appealing experience at the movies.
We have seen a lot of Hollywood movies and TV telepics about the relationships of fathers and daughters, (or sons), and they are usually conform to the genre of a psychological melodramas, defined by emotional crises, turning points, and pat resolutions.  Deviating from the norm, “Somewhere” is a decidedly different kind of movie, one in which the silences and gestures are far more important than verbal exchanges.
Though made on a modest budget, the film was a box-office flop.

Credits:

Directed and written by Sofia Coppola
Produced by G. Mac Brown, Roman Coppola, Sofia Coppola

Music by Phoenix
Cinematography Harris Savides
Edited by Sarah Flack

Production: Pathé Distribution, Medusa Film, Tohokushinsha, American Zoetrope

Distributed by Focus Features

Release date: September 11, 2010 (Venice Film Fest); December 22, 2010 (US)

Running time:  98 minutes
Budget $7 million
Box office $13.9 million