Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning (how many kids did Ma Fanning have?) star in the latest film from writer-director Sofia Coppola, about an actor who's life gets turned upside-down when his ex dumps their kid on him.
Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” is essentially what you would get if Michelangelo Antonioni were to remake Coppola’s “Lost in Translation.” For some, like the jury at the Venice Film Festival, this is heaven. For others, it's a droning and dense retelling of a story you've already heard.
In terms of plot, “Translation” and “Somewhere” (which won the Golden Line, top prize at the Venice Film Festival) couldn’t be much more similar: a fading movie star gets his life turned upside-down when he unexpectedly falls under the spell of a girl more than 20 years his junior with whom he spends a whirlwind weekend in a hotel far from home. But rather than Bill Murray’s sardonic humor and Johansson’s luminescent beauty, we get Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning, both of whom give excellent performances, sadly in vain.
Dorff has said that the part of Johnny Marco is the best he’s ever had the privilige to play, and it’s easy to see why the role spoke to him. Dorff’s essentially playing a version of his real self, crossed with a version of the layabout skirtchaser he’s assumed by many to be. Johnny no doubt truthfully depicts the tedium and solitude of being a Hollywood actor: hiding out in the Chateau Marmont, having strippers come to your room just because you can, the fog of booze and drugs, living in constant paranoia about the paparazzi. It feels real.
Unfortunately, Coppola’s approach to communicating to us this existential crisis includes making us feel it. From the very first scene of the film, she repeatedly holds shots two beats too long as Johnny stars off into the distance, across the horizon, from his balcony… We get it, he’s pensive/bored/sad/shiftless.
Fanning is great as Cleo, Johnny’s 11-year-old daughter. Unlike her sister, Dakota, who possesses a preternaturally old soul, Elle Fanning is exactly what the role of Cleo demands, a kid in all her gangly, eager-to-please youth. She has an easy realness to her that feels natural.
There’s so little dialogue in the film that the engine of Jonny’s Ferrarri just might be the third-most prevalent voice in the film, the low rumble of the powerful engine serving to underscore the static nature of Johnny’s life. But at some point, you grow to be as tired of the monotony as Johnny is.
Coppola is hardly the first director to till the same soil more than once in an effort to find some new truth or to hone their message. “Somewhere” doesn’t really succeed at either.