Watching a Sofia Coppola film is like what staring at an Andy Warhol on salvia might be like. That is, pop culture interpreted reflectively rather than with reverential excitement. Coppola’s latest feature, Somewhere, is her latest instalment examining the celebrity lifestyle and the spiritual anguish it often entails.
The film starts with a still shot of a black Ferrari tearing apart a private racetrack. We watch as slender star Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) stops the car and saunters out sporting sunglasses, visibly disoriented. The idea, of course, is that he’s going in circles, not sure where his life is taking him. As a celebrity in Hollywood, he is living a life of glamour where everything is given to him except the one thing he needs – purpose.
Kind of like Bill Murray’s character in Lost in Translation – a classic for those who’ve spent time in Japan as a foreigner. Both characters are surrounded by positive attention from women and fans. Both are either estranged from their spouses, or soon-to-be. Both form affectionate bonds with another, and the viewer watches with a repressed impatience. Impatience because there’s nothing that incites our heroes into meaningful action; repressed because we know we should just be sitting tight and enjoying the beauty.
And beauty is something Coppola suffuses in each of her scenes, giving an artist’s touch to the subtleties of the drama. The result is a film that makes you feel like you’re trespassing, watching people do private things, carry private conversations, suppress private emotions. We see this particularly with the ever calm and easy-going Cleo (Elle Fanning – yes, Dakota’s precocious younger sister), who is happy to see her celebrity daddy, but we sense she has some anxiety about his father’s recklessly random sex life and needs to express it. Instead, though, she accepts what she’s given – among them, their trip to Italy and the life of luxury he provides her – without asking any questions. While we are indulging in the fantasy of being an instant hero wherever we go – as he is with the Italian media – she is immune to it, monitoring each bizarre episode with an insouciance you wouldn’t expect from a normal child.
Cleo, it is hinted through her ice skating, is going in circles in her life as well, bouncing back and forth between maternal and paternal custody and waiting for some finality to embrace her. Plot-wise, there is very little left to indicate other than the ending, which even if given could hardly be considered a “spoiler.” There is some triumph in one minor decision made, but the viewer is still left wondering what they have been doing for the past hour and a half. Delving inside the life of celebrity culture and learning that those at the top are often just as lonely as we are? We already learned that from Lost in Translation.
There are indeed some beautiful songs, beautiful moments and beautiful… pauses explored in Coppola’s latest. After all, Coppola’s screenplays unfold at a snail’s place for a reason – to expose the dazzling cinematography. To showcase her talents as a true dilettante of ephemeral beauty. To not shove anything in our face as we might expect from a film about Hollywood, but to keep us at a safe distance where we can examine the sheer aesthetics, and maybe learn a thing or two about the intricacy of human relationships – subdued as they may be.
3 / 5