…on the 2nd day of Castmas the Chrazzas gave to me…
Welcome to Day 2 of Casta La Vista’s 12 Days of Castmas. It’s time for a written review from Chris W of Sofia Coppola’s latest film Somewhere. The film stars Stephen Dorff as isolated Hollywood actor Johnny Marco and Elle Fanning (sister of Dakota) as his daughter Cleo. Bake ‘em away Toys!
I would like to urge every single one of you delicious readers out there to go and see Somewhere if it is showing near you. However I fear that in doing so I may receive as many negative responses to the film as I might positive and in that sense I’m not sure it is worth it. This film is not one of those fabled Marmite films that I’m always going on about; in my opinion it is an unflinching portrayal of some very realistic characters and relationships that I honestly think could be considered as a masterpiece in years to come by some, but will probably be dismissed as boring and uneventful by others.
If you think you may be one to interpret Somewhere in the latter way then I would recommend that you stay away from this film, and potentially all of Sofia Coppola’s other work. This isn’t for you.
Somewhere isn’t a hard watch in terms of keeping focused; in fact I found it quite relaxing. It is touching, funny and unnerving in equal measure, and yet all of these elements are probably no greater than the alcohol vapour at the bottom of an empty shot glass.
Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff in a performance that deserves far more recognition than it will probably get from the Awards boffins in a couple of months) is a lonely man, but one that doesn’t realise it.
Surrounded by assistants, friends, hangers-on, journalists and fans, Johnny lives in a world where there is always a distraction that stops him from contemplating his existence up to the point where he falls asleep each night. He drinks a lot, but he isn’t necessarily an alcoholic. He loves his daughter although she never hears him say it. He owns a fast sports car but all its good for is driving round in circles.
The unseen element of Johnny’s life is his fame and his career. Despite being given glimpses of his ‘day job’ as he attends awards ceremonies, press junkets and make-up sessions, the film is about Hollywood without any real Hollywood on show. Coppola purposefully avoids any major allusions to Johnny Marco’s celebrity status to the world at large and instead focuses on how it impacts his personal relationships and day-to-day life. As such he is whisked from one city to the next and called about appointments that he has forgotten about; he is constantly surrounded by beautiful women who want to sleep with him; he is pampered and patronised everywhere he goes by assistants and PR folk; yet he is paranoid of every black SUV that drives behind him (it could be Paparazzi) and will not stand up to the taunting text messages he receives from a withheld number.
If anything, watching Somewhere causes the viewer to feel voyeur. Coppola’s camera lingers on scenes to the point of outstaying its welcome. As Marco, uncomfortably numb on painkillers, watches two pole dancers at the end of his bed we get the point and want to move on yet we aren’t allowed to and are forced to watch the whole routine with Johnny. Fitted with a mask to take a mould of his head, Johnny must stay still and silent for 40 minutes as it dries; we watch him for minutes at a time as he sits there completely unaware of our presence. A tender moment between a father and daughter sunbathing together pulls back to reveal the couple are poolside at a communal swimming pool, surrounded by other hotel guests and staff; suddenly we are at a distance, in the bushes looking down. Lesser filmmakers than Coppola would blink first and cut away, yet Sofia’s steady hand holds us in place and we watch on, increasingly nervous that we might be spotted.
Other films and TV shows set within the world of filmmaking have taken more conventional swipes at the Hollywood system by focusing on its flaws and greed. Often these films are more biting and satirical. I doubt very much that when Sofia Coppola wrote Somewhere she was intending to do the same thing.
Look closely and you’ll see that the film does not glamorise celebrity and fame, but nor does it criticize it or seek to rubbish it as a lifestyle.
The emptiness and shallowness of Johnny Marco’s life is more down to his own misgivings as a human being than it is the fault of the Hollywood machine. His is a character that has certainly become used to a lifestyle, and he never seems to show any sense of appreciation for the opportunities afforded to him by his social status.
People may be quick to label Marco as a pathetic character, or a bad person, perhaps others may feel sorry for him and blame the system for how he has been corrupted.
I prefer to think that the real Johnny can be summed up in the way he answers a fledgling actor who asks him for advice and questions where Johnny learnt his craft; “I don’t have a method” says Johnny “I just did a few jobs and here I am”. Johnny doesn’t have the answers because he is oblivious to the fact that he is an actor or a star- this is just his life, and he’s getting on with it, or the lack of it.
Somewhere is a slow film no doubt, but I found it extremely rewarding. Once the preconception (once again the fault of bad marketing) that this might be a film about love or epiphany or incident is removed I think most viewers will find much to enjoy, particularly in the form of the movies beating heart Cleo played by Elle Fanning. As the younger sister of Dakota, Elle has some pretty big (and super skinny) boots to fill, but based on this and upcoming projects like Super 8 the sky is blue for this one time Daddy Day Care enrolee (check it out- she’s cute as a button in it!).
The story of the film is told not by its characters but by the cinematography; Coppola consistently positions Marco off to one side or out of frame all together- the centre of attention suddenly out of focus in the real world.
Easy to interpret, Somewhere starts with a man going round in circles and ends with him walking down an open road towards tomorrow; symbolism at its most ham-fisted, but effective nonetheless. It might not offer any answers or conclusions as to where that tomorrow leads, but then again life rarely does does it?