Movies: Sofia Coppola's 'Somewhere'

Sofia Coppola returns to her favorite locale—hotels—and her obsessive subject, celebrities adrift. First and foremost came Bill Murray’s jet-lagged star navigating the cultural incongruities of Tokyo’s Park Hyatt in Lost in Translation. Then she turned Marie Antoinette into a teen pop star lost in the vast spaces and mechanical ceremonies of that ultimate 18th-century hotel, Versailles. The focus of her uncompromisingly low-key new movie, Somewhere, is Johnny Marco (Steven Dorff), a divorced, directionless, affluently homeless movie star living at the L.A. hipster mecca Chateau Marmont while recovering from a broken wrist. Johnny lolls on his bed in a stupor as twin pole dancers attempt to arouse him, drifts in the Marmont pool, and compulsively uses sex to fill the void where his self should be. He’s got good looks and a modicum of charm when he cares to bother, but he’s not much fun to be around. Not that anybody notices, because he’s famous. Scruffy and lost, he goes through the motions of his business with little affect, while everyone else—publicists ushering him into a photo shoot, Italian journalists interviewing him in a Milan hotel lobby—burst into enthusiastic overdrive in his presence.

Coppola, a sharp observer of the small absurdities of show business (Francis’s daughter knows this milieu in her bones), has earned the right to make movies exactly the way she wants. Somewhere is her most minimal and Europeanized film yet. Long stretches pass with only the most cursory (and unrevealing) dialogue: she’s less interested in events than the spaces between them. What passes for a plot arrives in the form of Johnny’s 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), a precocious, self-starting charmer who’s learned not to depend on her absent father for emotional support. Mom, for reasons unexplained, has split indefinitely, leaving Cleo with Johnny until summer camp begins. Fanning, by far the liveliest thing in the movie, may be a stand-in for the director, but Coppola’s focus remains fixed on the empty shell at the center of her movie, and that’s a problem. It’s not just that exposing the emptiness of celebrity is hardly fresh news—it’s apparent from the start that Johnny is a hollow man. Casting the less-than-charismatic Dorff may bolster Coppola’s thesis, but it’s dramatically self-defeating. How can we feel for Johnny, when there’s no there there?

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