Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere follows a few weeks in the life of Stephen Dorff’s A-list actor Johnny Marco, who fights ennui in his Chateau Marmont hotel suite despite enjoying the supposed lifestyle trappings of the rich and famous: fast cars, women who throw themselves at him, pole-dancing twins a phone call away, and so on. The premise obviously has much in common with Coppola’s earlier hit Lost In Translation, which also featured an unhappy hotel-based celeb negotiating a variety of absurd press junkets, welcoming entourages and soul-destroying engagements. Yet while Bill Murray’s journeyman actor found kinship with a young American woman in Tokyo, Johnny’s task is to reject the temporary relationships he has with a number of women in order to concentrate on and reconnect with his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning). When Cleo comes to stay at the Marmont the star has to put a stop to the partying and the casual sex, yet it’s clear that ‘being Johnny Marco’ has been getting him down for some time, and he’s evidently happy to opt out of his usual lifestyle. For much of the film, then, we do little other than hang out with this father and daughter as they spend some time together at the hotel (eating, lounging around, playing Guitar Hero and table tennis), drive around LA and travel to Rome, where Johnny must accept an award at a tacky ceremony.
I can see why the film left some viewers unmoved, or even irritated, upon its release (though I enjoyed it myself). Lord knows the last thing the world needs is another film about the problems of a rich, white, American actor, yet Coppola’s success in making you give a shit about Johnny Marco is one of several reasons why she’s a writer and director worth cherishing. She takes a risk in asking the viewer to sympathise with a guy who has clearly upset several people in the past through his behaviour, and who appears to have it all – ‘all’ being success, wealth, fame, good looks – yet Coppola’s screenplays have regularly and successfully shown the lack of value in celebrity, and her writing here smartly gives the viewers enough of Johnny’s winning charm to keep them on side. Of course Johnny changes his ways, checks out of the hotel and tells Cleo that he’s sorry he hasn’t spent as much time with her as he could have done, which is a little predictable, but the admission is at least given a slight spin by the fact she doesn’t hear him properly (shades of Lost In Translation again, and the whispered exchange between Murray and Scarlett Johansson at the end of that film). Having established a renewed focus on his daughter Johnny starts afresh, although the final scene here labours the point, somewhat disappointingly.
Perhaps Somewhere works because it isn’t just about Johnny – Fanning’s character is the latest of Coppola’s well-drawn young girls on the cusp of puberty – but the idea of a movie star prowling Hollywood is still as fascinating as it presumably was 60 or 70 years ago. There’s actually a lot of enjoyment to be had from watching a variety of Tinseltown distractions interrupt Johnny’s days, and I could have stood another 30 minutes at the very least. Several shots by the Harris Savides make an impression: a car speeding round a track comes in and out of a fixed frame, a close-up of a mould applied to Marco’s head by a special effects team reveals the ridiculousness of the profession, and the late cinematographer seems understandably fascinated by the hotel’s public and private spaces, which show off its fading glamour.
Directed by: Sofia Coppola.
Written by: Sofia Coppola.
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Chris Pontius.
Cinematography: Harris Savides.
Editing: Sarah Flack.
Running Time: 97 minutes.