Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” opens with a long shot of a black Ferrari circling an empty desert speedway for what seems like an eternity. After about the fifth lap, I understood what Coppola was going for: real-time anomie. There’s lots of that in this film.
The driver of the car turns out to be Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a mid-level movie star, recently divorced, who is shacking up at the Chateau Marmont, a funky Hollywood hotel known for sequestering fringey celebrities.
Having broken his arm, Johnny is nursing his impediment with a parade of willing women with whom he mostly dozes off in mid-act, even when being entertained by twin pole dancers. Their routine goes on for about as long as that Ferrari roundabout and is just about as sexy.
When not nodding off, Johnny heads out for the occasional party or publicity junket or prosthetics fitting session for his next film. When his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (an excellent Elle Fanning), shows up for a visit that turns into an extended stay, Johnny gradually bonds, as best as he can, with her. She seems a lot wiser than he. At least she knows how to cook.
I admired Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” which was also about a celebrity, paired with a much younger woman, who is confined by stardom. I also admired “Marie Antoinette,” which was equally about confinement, although from the regal end of the spectrum. In “Somewhere,” Coppola is attempting to complete what is, in effect, a trilogy of high-end loneliness.
Unlike those other two films, though, “Somewhere” reinforces clichés instead of dissolving them. For all its Antonioni-esque lassitude and dreary artiness, “Somewhere” is pushing a clichéd agenda: Celebrity is empty; Hollywood is empty; life is meaningless. Although Johnny is a star, you never get a sense of what made him one – or even if he’s any good as an actor. I guess we’re not supposed to care.
We’re also not supposed to care that he doesn’t seem to care about anything.
I’m grateful that, once Cleo enters the picture, Coppola didn’t try to turn “Nowhere” – I mean, “Somewhere” – into an art-house variant of “The Champ.” Cleo’s tentative attempts to reach her father, some of which are canny and successful (she makes a mean eggs Benedict), are touching and comic.
But most of the time we’re stuck watching the chain-smoking Johnny acting dopey – I mean, existential. Because Coppola plays out many of her scenes in actual time, she encourages us to sit still and discern the elemental in all that ennui. It’s what Warhol, in his endless movies, also tried to do.