Saturday, 15 October 2011


Year:  2010
Director:  Sofia Coppola
Screenplay:  Sofia Coppola
Starring:  Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Michelle Monaghan, Chris Pontius, Simona Ventura
Running Time:  98 minutes
Genre:  Drama, comedy, Hollywood

This film is a slow moving but engrossing character piece.  Johnny Marco (Dorff) is a Hollywood actor who has recently become famous and now lives at the legendary Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles, drinking too much and indulging in random sexual encounters with various women.  He is also getting a series of abusive anonymous text messages.  One morning his estranged, eleven year old daughter, Cleo (Fanning), turns up for an unexpected, extended stay.  With Cleo around, Johnny is forced to rexamine his feckless, empty life.

As with all of Sofia Coppola's previous films, this movie deals with lonely, wealthy people.  However while her previous films (The Virgin Suicides (1999), Lost in Transtlation (2003) and Marie Antoinette (2006)) deal with these subjects from a largely female perspective, this one deals with her usual themes from a male point of view.  Stephen Dorff gives a good perfomance as the outwardly successful but deeply unhappy Marco, and manages to make a potentially unsympathetic character engaging.  Elle Fanning is also striking as the intelligent, grounded daughter.  Sofia Coppola is the daughter of acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola and she has said that some apsects of the film, notably the sequence where Cleo accompanies Marco to a film festival in Italy and awards ceremonies, were partially inspired by her own childhood, although she has denied that the film is autobiographical.  It's obvious that Sofia Coppola knows the Hollywood lifestyle, and she herself has stayed at the Chateau Marmont, and the film critiques the lifestyle while also understanding it's appeal.  The character of Johnny Marco is treated sympathetically.  Often shot in a way that emphasises his isolation, his unhappiness is obvious on his face.  he knows that his life is empty and that he is in many ways just going through the motions, but he is trapped in a sense.  Cleo understands the pitfalls of her father's lifestyle and while she obviously adores and worships him, she is not blind to his faults and frequently finds herself taking care of him instead of the other way around.  She makes his breakfast and so on.  For his part, as much as he loves her, Marco cannot be the father that Cleo needs and he knows it.  At times the film feels a little bit like a Bret Easton Ellis story, although there is much less sex and violence and much more warmth and heart than you would find in Ellis' work.

A lot of the humour in the film comes from the depiction of the show-biz world.  This is not a behind the scenes drama.  Instead it follows Marco on the publicity trail as he tries to promote his latest movie doing photo-shoots with an actress (Michelle Monaghan) who clearly hates him, answering inane questions at press conferences and interviews and sitting in a make-up chair with his head and face completely plastered in gunk having clearly been forgotten about.

As with Sofia Coppola's other films, some people, particularly these days, may find it kind of difficult to be sympathetic to the self-examination of wealthy people trying to find meaning in a small, enclosed world.  The thing is that she is depicting the world that she knows about and lives in.  She grow up in a family that was practically Hollywood royalty, so the lives she depicts are ones that she knows about, even her one period film, Marie Antoinette, is still very much a Sofia Coppola film.  The thing is that there is a genuine warmth and heart to the film, as there is in all her work.  Ultimately the search for meaning, fulfillment and happiness is a key human concern that we can all relate to.       

Elle Fanning and Stephen Dorff in Somewhere

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