A small, intimate movie peppered with occasional insight but more often self-indulgence, Somewhere is a movie for the Sofia Coppola faithful, the ones willing to look through what might seem like myopia to the truth that lies beneath. There's not nearly as much there to find as there was in Lost in Translation, though, and retreading many of the same themes as Coppola's 2003 film, Somewhere feels more like a director's experiment with her own filmmaking past than an effort that stands up on is own.
It's a story about inertia, following the almost-washed-up but still famous actor Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) as he wanders up and down the hallways of the Chateau Marmont, an old-school Los Angeles hotel that seems like it could reveal Elizabeth Taylor or Barton Fink around any corner. We learn about Johnny primarily through the action that happens around him, like two identical pole dancers performing in his bedroom as he falls asleep, a co-star (Michelle Monaghan) snarling at him during a press junket, or publicists handling him delicately to get him from one place to another. The most telling scene of the movie is probably one in which Johnny's entire head is wrapped in plaster for a movie special effect; mute and immobile, he sits in a chair and breathes while the entire world rolls on without him.
The one dynamic thing in Johnny's entire life is Cleo (Elle Fanning), his 11-year-old daughter who comes under his care once in a while, and who slips right into his life at the Marmont with the kind of verve and personality he seems incapable of. As played by Fanning with an adolescent self-awareness that's true and heartbreaking, Cleo is the least complicated thing in Johnny's life and the only thing worth hanging on to. The two travel to Venice for a film festival, eat ice cream in bed, have an underwater tea party and play Rock Band, things Johnny might do on his own but only seem appropriate in the company of a child. When it comes time for her to take off to camp-- after chartering a helicopter to get them out of Vegas-- Johnny looks like a man dropped off at a train station without the money for a ticket to anywhere worth going.
The problem here isn't that, as many will claim, Coppola is once again asking us to feel pity for insanely privileged people and the prisons of their own makings. Johnny's situation is genuinely tragic, his relationship with his daughter genuinely affectionate, but neither of those characters emerge as more than their given types and what tics the actors themselves may have brought to the role. Dorff's acting is so minimalist as to be non-existence, Fanning's natural but limited, and with so little in Coppola's screenplay or direction to define either character, both Johnny and Cleo are blank slates we can choose to project personality onto or not. It's not that i don't have sympathy for Johnny Marco; it's that I don't even know the guy.
What disappoints me most about Somewhere is the fact that it feels like a retread for Coppola, a prodigiously talented filmmaker whose last film Marie Antoinette was so fantastically out-there and divisive, and whose Lost in Translation still holds as one of the best movies ever about platonic romance. Somewhere is no disaster, but it's a neat and contained whiff of a film from a filmmaker who can, and has, accomplished so much more.