19 December 2010

Sofia Coppola's Somewhere (2010)

Sofia Coppola has an interest in hotels, it seems, and perhaps this is not so surprising coming from the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola. Anyway, it seems to work for her, as her latest - Somewhere - is very successful.

The film has deliberately slow moments in which the tripod-fixed camera either does nothing or moves very slowly in or out - there's nothing tricksy here. The opening shot shows a very quiet road where a single car just goes round in circles several times, and there's no obvious reason for it.

Johnny Marco (played by Stephen Dorff) is the driver of the car, and is a movie star living at the Chateau Marmont hotel, Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, and is alienated, unable to relate to anyone or anything. He's obviously undergoing an existential crisis, and when asked 'Who is Johnny Marco?' at a press conference, merely says 'Er...', and can't reply because he doesn't know who he is. Two pole dancers perform while he looks on in bed, falling asleep the first time, and applauding and smiling in a perfunctory manner the second. His isolation is highlighted when a clay mould is put on his head by members of the make-up department, and he is left alone with the camera slowly, embarrassingly, moving in on his isolation, his emptiness. Attractive girls throw themselves at him, but there is no meaning, he is numb.

Watching his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (played by Elle Fanning) ice-skating holds his attention, and his enthusiam for her performance is very different from his reaction to the pole dancers: it is genuine. And when his estranged partner leaves Cleo with him at Chateau Marmont for a time before he has to send her to summer camp, his life becomes a little different: he starts avoiding some of the girls, and Cleo - in a marvelous performance by Elle Fanning - begins to teach him about togetherness, even what a home is like, and she takes great efforts over cooking in the hotel room.

Johnny takes her to Milan, Italy, where he collects an acting award at a rather overstated ceremony, and Cleo seems to love it, as she loves swimming in the private indoor hotel pool. But it is the return to Chateau Marmont that seems more like home, where there are familiar people, and they can behave like a regular father and daughter, as in the scenes where - against a beautiful musical backdrop of The Strokes' 'I'll Try Anything Once' - they play table tennis, dip into the pool (the first time Johnny genuinely smiles?), and sunbathe.

And then Johnny has to take Cleo to Camp Belmont, and she cries on the Interstate to Las Vegas, where they spend a final night, and where Johnny teaches Cleo a few basics at the craps table (some of Sofia Coppola's own memories showing through), before Cleo leaves, and Johnny breaks down at Chateau Marmont, when he is again left to his emptiness.

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