Somewhere (2010)

Initially, I watched Somewhere and just did not like it. I thought, hey, this movie is BORING. There is nothing happening here. And what little that does is basically solipsistic, self-referential, whiny Hollywood bullshit. Though, I also understand that this is what the surface of this movie is about. The characters are not supposed to be relatable and dynamically interesting. I guess it is too easy to focus on the Hollywood aspect of the story and not realize this is a simply a film about a man who seemingly has everything but is nothing (or maybe it’s the other way around). I get that Coppola is not interested in making a film that builds to some sort of obvious, onscreen emotional catharsis. To that I say, I guess I think that maybe this movie just wasn’t for me. But having seen it a week ago, I still keep thinking about it. And that is the mark of a film that has something. Even if you can’t actually figure it out. So, I guess I’m ambivalent about it.

After reading A.O. Scott’s glowing review I could appreciate some of the things I could not quite articulate on my own. I definitely, retrospectively, see the grasping at Antonioni (or even Fellini) that is going on with its Italian influence. And I never doubted Harris Savides‘ always amazing cinematography.
I wonder if I have a weakness for not recognizing accomplished formalism. Or maybe, like the majority of the planet, just instinctually know when some formal exercises are excuses for a lack of emotional depth (edit: that sounds more harsh than I meant).

For those that want to/do not know, this movie revolves around a seemingly well known movie-star named Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), hanging out at the Chateau Marmont in-between movies, who ends up spending some time with his eleven-year old daughter (Elle Fanning) who he admittedly has not been around for very much. This man does nothing much more than drive his Ferrari, smoke, drink, eat, (try to) have sex, play video games, and generally narcolepse through his time on screen. While this comes off as nearly as unappealing as I am insinuating, and we certainly do not need anymore indulgences into the realm of celebrity in this culture, it must be said that this is not necessarily such an easy thing to act. This is a film drama, after all, and not some reality show. Stephen Dorff should be commended for committing to such a subtle performance (a subtlety that should not be confused with a wealth of rich background, but rather one that is intentionally unobvious in its emotiveness). The interactions with the daughter are the only scenes that create any semblance of narrative. One assumes that the man is learning something about himself as he realizes his part in the life of this girl who is more mature than him, yet retains some sort of quasi-innocence that he has long since forgotten. Part of my problem with this film is that these interactions lead nowhere for the viewer me. We are meant to piece together a conception of this man and this girl and make suppositions about their character in ways that are devoid of any actual diagetic substance. Everything important happens before and after the film. Yet, I doubt some sort of conventional exposition or flashback structure would fit with the style of this film.

My initial reaction was that this film would perhaps benefit from a more well-known “celebrity” playing the part, all the better for a level of meta-interest. Having thought about it more, I still would have preferred this (though I concede that this is clearly not the point of the film). Part of why Lost in Translation worked so well is that it had the image of Bill Murray to play with. I would love to know if Coppola wanted someone (else) specifically for the lead role. This is not a slight on Dorff’s characterization. I just think that the film would be completely different (for good or bad) with a different actor propelling the whole of it.
I’m not sure if that makes me a hypocrite or a staunch proponent of meta-acting.

Sofia Coppola definitely has her own slant on filmmaking, one that she has surely, consciously developed in her forging a name adjacent to her family film dynasty. Yet, I can’t help but think that this reliance on formal, visual “poetry” eschewing traditional narrative cinema is a crutch that is used to distance herself from that very dynasty. But, what do I know.
If I was any kind of cineaste, I would have used this space to analyze the ways in which her film echoes the same kind of “film grammar” of a L’Avventura or meta-commentary of a La Dolce Vita. Though, I just don’t see the point. Maybe that’s nostalgia clouding things. Or maybe it is my lack of understanding of the complexity of (celebrity) ennui. There is neither a consistent atmospheric construction of mood (like with of the best parts of Marie Antoinette) or a coherent exploration of the characters’ environment here, that I can see/feel.

There is no ending, only an attempt at a new beginning left under-imagined. That is how I felt when this picture was over. Underwhelmed not with its lack of imagination, but with its under imagination. Then again, maybe that’s my fault (since plenty of people are applauding this very same “European minimalism”). Though not necessarily a step backwards (if we want to be totally auteurist about it), perhaps her next film will be a step forward and not a step sideways as it is here.


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