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Somewhere

Somewhere

By Thomas Grieve • July 27th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 4/5SOMEWHERE (MOVIE)
Universal

Original release: December 10th, 2010
Running time: 97 minutes

Writer and director: Sofia Coppola

Cast: Elle Fanning, Stephen Dorff, Chris Pontius

Somewhere

Somewhere begins with a static shot of a Ferrari driving around a desert racetrack, repeatedly exiting the frame before reappearing again seconds later as it drives round and round. After a couple of minutes the car stops and out steps a man. It’s not the most exciting shot in the world, but it sets the tone for Sofia Coppola’s film, acting, in its bored uninspired repetition, as the perfect introduction to Johnny Marco. Marco, played by Stephen Dorff, is an action star, party animal and Chateau Marmont resident with a name designed for movie posters.

After falling asleep with a blonde (possibly paid), who girlishly blows bubble gum in his face, Johnny Marco wakes up to his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) signing her name on his arm cast. Later he emerges from his neighbours room dressed only in a towel to find Cleo waiting with a suitcase having been left by her mother to spend time with her father. Somewhere is a film that, in lesser hands, could have been a pretty standard tale of a father’s redemption through his child. Instead Coppola presents one of the most thorough examinations of a man’s relationship with his daughter ever committed to film.

Coppola presents the female body in motion in three important scenes. The first two consist of a set of blonde twins who pole dance for Johnny in his hotel room. They move awkwardly and without enthusiasm, the camera capturing the un-sexiness of the routines while Johnny sits on his bed barely awake and struggling to summon the energy to applaud. The third scene sees Cleo ice skating at a local rink, Johnny is splitting his attention between his phone and his daughter while her talent gradually becomes obvious. Putting his phone away, he’s slowly transfixed, Stephen Dorff’s face morphing to convey a shocked awe.

That’s the film in microcosm, the slow awakening to the opposite sex, by a man whose position in life has skewed his perspective. Johnny Marco is shown throughout as having easy access to sex, he initiates encounters with a sentence or, at one point, even with just a look. Coppola presents a refreshing take on masculinity, stripping him of any of the glamour with which other directors might have endowed him (watch him stand on a crate for a photo opp. with his leading lady). Sex is routine, the act itself uninteresting to her lens, of more concern is the effect it has on Johnny and those around him. Cleo seethes at a mystery woman across the breakfast table after waking up to find that her father abandoned her in the night. Savage text messages appear regularly, sent from some woman, probably as unknown to Johnny as to us.

Somewhere

Whilst bonding, Cleo talks her father through the plot of Twilight, explaining of its hero: “If she gets too close to him, he won’t be able to help himself.” This is a horrible notion of masculinity, obviously, but it is one that her father has reinforced consistently. We gain an impression that Johnny’s relationship with his daughter might be his first meaningful connection with a female in a long time. Not to make the film sound trite, Coppola is better than to suggest that partying automatically equals a bad parent and a depressive individual. Instead she offers up Marco and his lifestyle as evidence for the need for human connection over fleeting physical or material pursuits; it’s a theme that has run through her entire oeuvre, from The Virgin Suicides and (especially) Lost in Translation through to this year’s The Bling Ring.

That Marco has the talent deserving of his fame and lifestyle is repeatedly questioned. At an impromptu party in his hotel room an aspiring actor asks for advice concerning his career and methods; Johnny’s mumbled answer makes it clear that he has thought little about his craft. Later, at a press conference he is dumbstruck by questions of postmodernism and of his film’s reflection of Italian-Americans. He exists wholly as a movie star, his life revolving around the gaudy trappings of fame; unfortunately he seems to have little interest in his role as an actor.

One question asked during the press conference stands out: “Who is Johnny Marco?” “I’m fucking nothing, I’m not even a person.” Johnny sobs down the phone, much later on, as he breaks down in epiphany. “Why don’t you try volunteering or something?” comes the response from the other end of the line. At one point, Johnny’s work commitments mean he has to have a Somewherecast taken of his face. Sitting there, encased in clay, it becomes clear quite how dehumanizing and lonely his job must be. Somewhere’s achievement is not in illuminating movie star melancholy though, but instead in its recognition of an emotional universality, a need to feel worthwhile, for and purpose and real interaction. Cleo provides her father with that purpose and connection. Johnny is at ease when he’s with Cleo, he discovers that he has a role to play; he is a father, educator, protector and friend. The banality of driving his Ferrari in circles, or of watching dancers fake it for money is replaced by a relationship whose pleasures are far less fleeting.

I feel that to speak solely of Somewhere in terms of its somewhat heavyweight thematic concerns would be to do it a disservice. It’s periodically heartbreaking and thoughtful, but it’s often a delight too. There’s at times, a joyous chemistry between Dorff and Fanning that sells the central relationship and carries the limited narrative. Their final day together lazing around the pool, playing table tennis and conducting an underwater tea party is set dazzlingly to Julian Casablancas’ “I’ll try anything once” and has a sweet intimacy that remains with you. Indeed as the camera slowly zooms out from the sunbathing pair, it comes as a surprise to see that there are other people around.

That is the magic of Somewhere, the ability to realise two characters so fully and to explore their relationship so intimately that it can be jarring when others enter the frame. For all the praise I may have heaped on Coppola’s film, it will perhaps not be to everybody’s taste. That this is an intelligent, meaningful and important piece of filmmaking is clearly evident, but its pacing is glacial. Somewhere’s triumphs occur in its observations; the little moments that add up to far more than their sum.

Somewhere

Thomas Grieve

Thomas Grieve

Tom is a Cardiff University Philosophy graduate from sunny Manchester. He favours filmmakers with edge and ambition, ones unafraid to subvert and disturb the status quo. This means directors such as David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, David Croenenberg and Terry Gilliam.

Usually found in front of a screen trying to catch up on an ever-expanding watch list he also occasionally finds time to write. He tweets once in a while too: @thomasgrieve .

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