' ' Cinema Romantico: Somewhere

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


As a sort of Hollywood A-list actor Stephen Dorff in "Somewhere" doesn't so much act or react as just.....kind of.....kind of......kind of.....kind of......kind of.....kind of..........exist.  If that sentence seems drawn out, well, good, because it should do a fine job of approximating the experience of watching Sofia Coppola's fourth feature film as writer/director.  I imagine Sofia setting up a scene: "Okay, Stephen, we're gonna have you just sit here on this couch and sip at a beer and smoke a cigarette.  Nothing else.  We'll do this for about, oh, two minutes and then how about if at the end you see this avocado in this bowl on your coffee table and pick it up and sort of look at it and think, like, 'Wow.  Avocado.  Craaaaaaaazy.'"

Dorff's Johnny Marco is currently staying at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont.  Can't say he does much there.  He lays in the pool, he drinks, parties seem to spring up in his room without his knowledge or approval, he sleeps with women whose names he never takes down.  He is promoting some sort of action film on the verge of Italian release.  He likes to fall asleep to the sites and sounds of rather bland strippers who come equipped with their own stripper poles.  He also has an eleven year old daughter named Cleo (Elle Fanning).  She turns up one morning.  Then she turns up another morning when she is not expected and Johnny gets a call from his ex-wife who says she "needs some time away."  From what?  Well, everyone, no matter their class status, needs time away.  And so Johnny and Cleo just kind of.....kind of.....kind of.....kind of.....kind of......kind of.........exist.

It takes a ballsy (pardon the adjective, Sofia) director to stay with a shot of a man (Dorff) sitting in a chair, alone, with some sort of gooish glob covering ever inch of his face to construct a latex mask for a particular role for that long, pushing in, slowly and gently, or to film an entire figure skating routine.  Seriously, it's the entire figure skating routine, cutting between Cleo on the ice and Johnny watching from the stands.  Even actual figure skating movies don't deign to show us entire routines!  (Of course, because this is Sofia's World the figure skating routine is set to Gwen Stefani which works to make it more enjoyable than any actual figure skating movie.)  You can practically hear the inevitable response to this film rising up in unison by the time the opening shot - 180 degrees from Paul Thomas Anderson - concludes.  You know how it goes.  Say it with me!  "Nothing happens!"  Or, as the young gentleman sitting in front of me at the theater said to his companion upon returning from the restroom, "Did I miss any car chases?"

Does anything happen?  Well, no.  It doesn't.  It's more a film of tons of individual moments all packaged together (and, let's be honest, a lot of these individual moments are ripped straight out of Sofia's own "Lost In Translation"), more a mockumentary of the Hollywood culture, an introverted "Bowfinger". 


It's not that the shots are static and it's not that the shots are the longest of long takes.  This is fine.  It's that the shots are so often un-evocative.  Sofia spent three movies creating grand and memorable images.  I always flash back to that extended shot of King and Queen in "Marie Antoinette" still going through their ridiculous and antiquated dining routine while we hear the mobs shouting outside.  I don't think she moves the camera all that much partly because she still has faith in the good, old Human Attention Span.  Whether that faith is naive or not is a discussion for another post, but I respect it and that's why I've always deeply respected her as a filmmaker.

But.....but.....but.....but.....but..........but.  If your images are showing us nothing and telling us nothing and refusing to work on our emotions, what then?  I get it.  Okay?  I do.  I get the point, and if I didn't get the point, Johnny Marco's brief phone call there at the end would have made sure I got it.  If he's what he says he is, and it's quite clear he is, then the film has done a solid - make that, spectacular - job of making its point.  But that point, by its very nature, makes the entire film that has preceded it unwatchable.


Andrew K. said...

Oh, Nick. I love this review, but I don't agree. Actually, wrong, I agree with you and yet I like the film in spite of it. I really think Dorff nails it, whatever *it* is...another question...

Nick Prigge said...

I gotta say, I can't stop thinking about this movie. Not that this means I've decided that I like it. Because I still don't. But it's the fact the movie, like you said, so perfectly nails what it's trying to do. It's just that I didn't care for what it was trying to do. It's confounding. Even when I don't like a Sofia Coppola film she still boggles my mind.