Sofia Coppola is a director who has a knack for capturing small individual moments, but she hasn't yet discovered the ability to assemble them into a wholly satisfying film. Her fourth film Somewhere shows little advancement from the previous three; it may be less irksome all round than her misconceived Marie Antoinette, but it's only fleetingly successful, in the same manner as The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation. Coppola's film is a study of ennui and emptiness in the life of a Hollywood star, but it emerges as an empty endeavour in itself, dramatically inert and devoid of emotional weight.
There is something to be admired in Coppola's stylistic choices, however, particularly in the way she stages shots and then holds on them for longer than we expect. The opening scene allows a sports car to make a couple of laps on a racetrack before Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) emerges from it, and Coppola retains her fixed perspective whether she's viewing two pole dancers performing for the bored Johnny, or observing as he sits encased in wax, his laboured breathing audible on the soundtrack as the camera slowly zooms in. Johnny is a movie star, but as Somewhere makes abundantly clear in its opening sequences, he's stuck in a rut, unsatisfied with a life of stardom, and no amount of women flinging themselves at him can lift his spirits. The idea of asking us to sympathise with the poor rich and famous guy threatens to hobble Somewhere from the start, and it probably would, if it relied on Dorff's performance alone.
Fortunately, Elle Fanning injects a vital spark into the picture. She plays Johnny's daughter Cleo who arrives to spend some time with him while her mother is away. Dorff is a flat presence on screen but Fanning is natural and alive, and she manages to bring something out of her co-star too. The relationship that develops between these two characters feels organic and true, and Coppola is smart enough to let scenes between them just play out, and to let the natural dynamic between them do the work for her. Some scenes consist of little more than Johnny and Cleo playing a video game or eating ice cream together, or watching Cleo make breakfast for her father, but as engaging as these sequences may be, they don't have any cumulative effect. Coppola has no idea how to take these moments and build them towards anything.
Instead, we have to endure comedy moments that Coppola again shows no facility for (a mix-up with a naked masseuse, more 'hilarity' at awful foreign TV shows à la Lost in Translation), and stabs at the hollowness of fame and the ridiculous nature of Hollywood which feel trite and second-hand. The final image in this film is laughable, completely bereft of the meaning and reaching for a profundity that the film hasn't earned. Coppola has ability, there's no doubt about that, and Somewhere is very easy on the eyes (Harris Savides' work is consistently wonderful) but after four films we still don't know if she has anything to say.
The only extra feature on the disc is a 17 minute behind-the-scenes documentary called Making Somewhere, which offers footage from the set and interviews with Coppola, the cast and the crew. It's fun to watch and nicely assembled. One notable tidbit: Kristina and Karissa Shannon, who play the pole dancers in the film, were considering getting breast implants until Sofia told them not to. Well done Sofia!
Somewhere will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 4th
Buy Somewhere here