Film Review: Somewhere (2010)

By James Madden. Viewed 19.12.2010

Winner of the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival, Sofia Coppola brings her latest work to screen with Somewhere, the story of a Hollywood superstar who is in a transient state between here, there and the titular somewhere.

Johnny Marco (played by Stephen Dorff) is the Hollywood superstar bad boy surrounding the film. His life is an endless array of parties, booze, girls and sex. Occasionally there is the odd commitment based activity to his work, as well as the responsibility of taking care of his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (played by Elle Fanning) when her mother haphazardly drops her by. Shut up in the infamous Chateau Marmont (a noteworthy character in itself, legendary of decades of Hollywood debaucheries), Johnny lives a very simple and restrained life. But there seems to be a lack of meaning and significance to it all to which Cleo appearance acts as an awakening.

Somewhere is many things. Coming of age story, an insider portrait of a Hollywood life (from someone who well and truly knows!), and a love story. Coppola manages to impress with these themes despite minimal dialogue, instead showing postcard type imagery. Her aesthetic style here is as strong as ever, continuing a trend, although one quite different from her last piece, the lavish and opulent Marie Antoinette. Kudos should also be paid to cinematographer Harris Savides in creating this aesthetic “postcard” look.

Johnny and Cleo make an odd couple for a film’s central relationship focus. However, Dorff and Fanning’s chemistry is palpable and they are both endearing as the father and daughter whose scenes of being in bed eating ice cream together are charming, cute and moving.

Dorff all too convincingly plays superstar Johnny Marco with a James Dean-esque feel. Racing his Ferrari around town, Dorff also channels the insular Dean, slowly attempting to reconcile equilibrium through his work life and his family life with his daughter.  Fanning is wonderful as the young Cleo. She is loveable, and convincingly plays the object of Johnny’s affection, providing reciprocally unconditional love. However it is Johnny’s previous absences that question the future of his relationship with his daughter, and drives the film to its very emotional conclusion.

Family absence and disconnection are not necessarily seen as the pitfalls of fame, yet a connection can be made. Johnny’s existence is somewhat nomadic.  He roams around the Chateau Marmont without much purpose, even falling asleep in the act of being with another model-type creature. While there are moments of glamour, the film shows the more frequent moments of loneliness and emptiness with long scenes without barely any dialogue. This effect makes scenes with even a few lines of dialogue all the more significant.

A subtle filmmaker, Coppola has created a portrait of Hollywood that focuses on the quiet times of the rich, famous and popular and ponders the idea of where do we go from here? Similar to her previous works surrounding young women at the forefront of adulthood and responsibility (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette), Somewhere sees a slightly older male character dancing around these same ideas. With music from Phoenix serving as the score, Somewhere is humble, touching, poignant and meaningful.

Somewhere is released by Universal Pictures on Boxing Day.

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