Thursday, January 6, 2011
Sofia Coppola is only forty years old, but her latest film indicates surprising maturity in her career path. By this I mean that she's behaving like a 75 year Woody Allen, who might have a few original ideas left in him, but felt no need to waste them on his latest cinematic effort. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger came out earlier this year and dared to ask probing questions about religion and life's meaninglessness (gasp). In Somewhere, Coppola, also, settles into comfortable and familiar territory, framing the ennui and existential numbness of the wealthy and narcissistic in a way that draws almost everything from Lost in Translation (and repeats the themes of Marie Antoinette).
The main difference, however, between Sofia's movie and Allen's is that I get the sense that she actually cares. Her main character might be self-loathing, but I think Coppola has quite a bit of affection for him. Stephen Dorff, an actor who's fallen out of fashion since Blade (1998) plays the role of the down on his luck Johnny Marco. This being Hollywood, down on his luck means that he's America's most popular actor, drives a Ferrari, moves from four star hotel room to four star hotel room, sleeps with a bevy of beautiful women, and even has a daughter who loves him. (Well, there's some bad too--he's divorced from his wife, and some anonymous woman keeps sending him angry text messages). This being Sofia Copolla, the loneliness is pervasive; it's in the opening scene where he's driving his Ferrari around in circles and in the even less subtle scene where he hires two strippers to perform in his hotel room. He can't even make spaghetti without looking pathetic; we get a brief glimpse of an overflowing colander and realize that he knows neither how to take care of himself, nor the definition of excess.
All of this is certainly predictable, but the film still worked for me. This is due, in large part, to Elle Fanning's role as his eleven year old daughter. She brings radiance and innocence into Johnny's life and into the movie, but no one's teaching anyone lessons here. Cleo does her best to act mature, but even she can sense how confused her world is. And Johnny doesn't reform his life and turn into a good person just because his daughter is around; he has merely found someone to share his isolation with. Unlike Murray and Scarlett Johansson, these two are somehow not enough for each other.
All in all, I would say I liked Somewhere. I liked the mood, I liked the colors, I liked the look at the emptiness of the Hollywood lifestyle, and I liked looking inside the Hollywood lifestyle. I think I even had a sort of perverse wonder/admiration for the relative glamour of all the emptiness. But I also can't evaluate Somewhere on its own terms, I can't avoid comparing it to Lost in Translation. Obviously, both have famous actors in swanky hotels, and both introduce important female characters to shake up some of the initial monotony. But everything else from Lost in Translation is replicated as well; from the significant role of cars and traffic, to Murray's incomprehension during Japanese interviews, which finds its counterpart in Johnny's confusion at an Italian awards show. It's all intentional--but for what reason, I don't quite know. Directors have often returned to past works--whether it's Haneke making an American version of Funny Games or Hitchcock redoing The Man Who Knew Too Much--so perhaps Coppola just feels the need to reinforce her vision. Or maybe the repetition is supposed to make some kind of statement, and Sophia's apparent creative rut mirrors her subjects' inability to escape from whatever's troubling them. Whatever the case, Somewhere is very good at making you think it isn't going anywhere new. And perhaps it isn't. But it's a little like Johnny and his magnificent piece of Italian engineering; wherever it's going, it gets there in style.