It’s been four years since Sofia Coppola’s last film, MARIE ANTOINETTE, a biopic as opulent as the title character. Art directed to the hilt, each scene is stuffed with billowing gowns in sumptuous colors, colossal wigs, all night feasting and drinking – and who can forget a reclined Kirsten Dunst surrounded on all sides by a bevy of bright cakes? Where color and composition are concerned, SOMEWHERE is right in line with Coppola’s previous work, which is to say both elements are perfected. Set in Los Angeles against the bluest California sky dotted by the greenest of trees, SOMEWHERE is a treat for the eyes, even if the accoutrements are somewhat toned down since the days of the French Revolution. In fact, everything is toned down, including the script and the story.
The story is Johnny, played by Stephen Dorff. Dorff is the perfect man-boy – scruffy, cute and playful like a puppy and just as carefree, drifting in and out of parties, the minimal demands of his acting career and his daughter’s life. It’s almost hard to believe that he had anything to do with creating Cleo, who’s smart, demure, adorable and at eleven, is already more accomplished than her dad. She ice skates, takes ballet, plays tennis and cooks from memory. At eleven I think I had finally mastered toast.
Coppola doesn’t hesitate to draw parallels between Johnny’s relationship with his daughter and his relationship with other women, which are all sexual and often with strippers. In fact, Cleo’s ice skating leotard is similar to the costumes a set of strippers first wear, and the tennis outfits they wear next is mirrored by the tennis racket Cleo playfully, yet innocently, twirls in her hands. Where do the two separate lives of Johnny’s Hollywood party world and Cleo’s domestic sphere intersect?
The two spend a lot of time together. We’re shown long, almost mundane scenes of their father/daughter activities, some of which include Johnny’s buddy Sammy, played by Chris Pontius of JACKASS fame. Sammy ranks high on the list of the film’s highlights, falling into comfortable, candid speech with Cleo, a feat Johnny is hardly ever able to accomplish. Plus, Sammy has actual lines of dialogue in an otherwise quiet film. There hardly seems to be a script at all here, and hardly any action or story either. But what ultimately kills SOMEWHERE is that nothing is at stake. If Johnny’s noncommittal attitude hasn’t affected his comfortable lifestyle at this point, it probably never will, and Cleo never questions her father’s questionable behavior with women in front of her beyond a raised eyebrow of disapproval, which soon gives way to a sad kind of reconciliation. There’s supposed to be some drama with Cleo’s mother, Johnny’s ex-wife, but it’s only hinted at and a real problem never seems imminent. The two are untouchable, which is nice but does not a movie make.
Sadly, these characters are wasted in a storyless film, and it’s too bad because you come to really care about them. As an audience you at least want something to happen. In a final scene that feels tacked on, as if Coppola decided at the last moment to send her film on the hint of high note, Johnny drives his Ferrari out to the desert, ditches it on the side of the road and walks off down the highway – a heavy-handed symbol to say the least, but symbolism of any degree is completely out of place in a film that’s entirely realistic. It’s so realistic, in fact, that we’re often shown long, pointless scenes, the point being, or so I thought, that we know we’re seeing all of Johnny’s life with nothing left out. We see him eat, sleep and shower. We see him drink beer on the couch, make pasta and then eat it and drive aimlessly around the streets of the city. So the poetic walk off into the sunset is jarring and hokey. I know he’s not really going to walk the miles and miles of open highway to reach his destination and so I can’t buy into his supposed change of heart, which annoyingly takes place offscreen (Why show all his mindless activities and withhold his one important, life defining moment?). It blows the cover off a story that is as vapid and meaningless as its title.