a film by Sofia Coppola

Many critics and naysayers have lashed out at Sofia Coppola's latest film in many of the same ways they had lashed out at her first three, only this time it seems to be with a harsher, more vicious tone. Such epithets as snobby, privileged, self-involved and pretentious have been thrown about the room with much bravura and bally-hoo. Granted, in one way or another, such adjectives are indeed quite accurate in describing much of the young Coppola's even younger oeuvre, but to think that such flippant descriptives are the entire story, and to latch upon these negatives with such tight fists, and ride them like the proverbial dead horse, means that most of these aforementioned critics and naysayers are missing the point of what the filmmaker is trying to say with her cinema. Such reactionary criticism is not good for anyone involved.

I am not here to merely defend the artistic credibility of Ms. Coppola, but rather to speak of the auteur's aforementioned fourth film, the poignantly titled Somewhere, and try to make some sort of sense out of the whole thing. The story of Johnny Marco, a B-list action hero movie star played by one-time hot prospect Stephen Dorff, Coppola takes us through her protagonist's mundane existence, living at the rather surprisingly squalid looking Chateau Marmont (a Hollywood landmark famous as a temporary home for all types of celebrities, from Garbo to Keanu Reeves to Hunter S. Thompson, as they mark their territories and bide their time between press junkets and shooting schedules, and made infamous by The Eagles' Hotel California, appears as a sad, dingy place right out of Lynch or the Coen Brothers) and monotonously making his way through photo shoots and glad-handing and a myriad of blonde liaisons and oddly-placed strip tease acts (instead of arousing, these scenes are merely, and quite purposely sad and pathetic from every standpoint) and living what should be the high-life, but instead is an existence without much laughter or happiness or even kindness.

Living the most empty of existences (many critics complain that if one is wealthy one should not have problems, which is just an idiotic thought) Johnny only perks up when his daughter Cleo (played with an aplomb, more than expected from Elle Fanning, Dakota's little sister) shows up at the Marmont. Barely knowing his daughter (he is always away on location) and not knowing how to be the father he should be (he is not a bad dad per se, only one who doesn't know how to be one) Johnny seems at his happiest when she is around - though still the emptiness of his eyes and of his actions say different. Whisking her off to Italy as he accepts an award on some bizarro Italian awards show and playing Guitar Hero in their hotel room, taking her to her ice Skating lesson and dropping her off (after a quick stop in Vegas) at her Summer camp (via helicopter), one can see the loneliness not only in Johnny's eyes, but in Cleo's as well. A child of privilege (like the director - her most autobiographical work to date) but still a child who has nothing firm to grasp a hold of, and no one reliable to look up to and ask help from. In the end it is not Johnny who we need to feel for, but Cleo.

And as for the end, Coppola who has made a habit of ending her films on a beautiful, if not open-ended note, seems to go a bit too far here. Coppola's third act is filled with the obvious cliche'd moments that one is happy not to see in the rest of the film, but is surprisingly irritated at finding them here, near the end. Perhaps this banging-your-head-against-the-wall final act that we get is not upsetting enough to finish off the tragic and melancholy beauty that is the rest of Ms. Coppola's film, but nonetheless, it does dampen the effect that the filmmaker was going for in the first place. Perhaps too, the casting of Stephen Dorff was a bit off, as he cannot fully portray the emptiness inherent in this role - a role that, for all intents and purposes, was played beautifully by Bill Murray in the director's Lost in Translation (the kind of role Murray has made a second career out of with his sad clown eyes and eyebrows askew). Fanning manages to become her part (a child actress may be more in tune with what she must do to portray such a character) and in several scenes, especially one where she is forced to have the most awkward of breakfast's with one of her father's over-night dalliances, she nails it to the proverbial wall.

All-in-all though (and my criticisms have nothing to do with the seething anger at entitlement so many others have groaned about), even if this is perhaps Coppola's worst film (a bad description as the film is far from bad - it is only the worst when compared to the previous three), and the ending comes dangerously close to falling apart (or perhaps goes past such a thing), and though Dorff may not be up to the job at hand (though he does do a passable, if not stand-out job), Somewhere, a film in which everyone yearns for such a place, but no one ever gets there (one can see allusions to such films as Vincent Gallo's Brown Bunny and Gus Van Sant's Last Days, as well as to Coppola's own father's short Life With Zoe, from New York Stories), plays out just as its perfectly apt title alludes to - it is something yearning to be somewhere, but never quite arriving. It is an enjoyably awkward ride throughout. [01/17/11]