Saturday, 30 October 2010

LFF 2010 Review : Somewhere

Perhaps it’s fitting that Sofia Coppola’s fourth feature offers much to admire on an entirely superficial level, dealing as it does with the hollow lifestyles of the over-privileged, but it’s difficult to sympathise (let alone empathise) with movie star protagonist Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) as he mopes around five star hotel suites trapped in a vacuum of celebrity ennui, ultimately leaving us with a piece of work as vacuous and lacking in feeling or depth as the world it presents, even if it is aesthetically seductive. It’s a brave choice of subject for Coppola, taking the screenwriting 101 adage of writing about what you know at face value, and there’ll be many who can’t resist an easy jab at her genesis as a filmmaker, her father being who he is and this picture being produced through American Zoetrope, but they’d be cheap punches and whilst I wouldn’t call myself  a fan of her work thus far, she clearly has a voice of her own that even if for now is a little trapped in a rhythm of self-conscious hipster-chic, when paired with the right material (i.e. someone else’s script) could potentially transcend the sense of déjà vu witnessed here.
The opening shot is fantastic, a fixed camera shot of a Ferrari speeding in a continuous loop around a test track in the desert, it says more about the cyclical monotony of the life of a megastar than the entire 98 minutes which follow, but also proves an unfortunately apt metaphor for the repetitive nature of her work as a director, re-treading familiar stylistic ground, essentially going nowhere rather than the somewhere promised by the title.
It feels like a film made for her movie star chums, who I’m sure will find much to recognise and chortle at as Marco sleepwalks his way through an endless parade of press junkets and willing female supplicants, but for the majority of audience members who’ve just endured an hour of kebab-strewn buses and signal-failing tubes to make it to the cinema, the self-pitying whining of this blank-eyed ingrate will simply prove alienating rather than endearing.
There’s barely a hint of dramatic drive to the film, Coppola reaching for tone above all else, and whilst effective in its manifestation (as always her music choices work, even if they’re a little affected), ‘contemplative’ only works when there’s something to contemplate. If we’re supposed to be watching with an air of ironic detachment as her lensing often suggests, well it’s been done better elsewhere, from Peter Watkins’ Privilege (1967) and Woody Allen’s Celebrity (1998) to Gus Van Sant’s Last Days (2005) and even Casey Affleck’s one-note satire I’m Still Here (2010), she’s even explored the dislocating nature of hotel rooms previously herself with Lost In Translation (2003), which at least had a beating heart lounging amongst the pillow chocolates and folded toilet paper.
Consistent with her aforementioned previous feature, we’re invited to laugh at the ‘funny foreigners’, here Italian rather than Japanese, but at least the Milan-set mid-section offers a welcome relief from the artful stasis of what precedes and follows, the only other movement in the picture being the driving sequences, although they’re closer to those high profile BMW ads starring Clive Owen than the pseudo-metaphorical Monte Hellman allusion they clearly aspire to.
The most effective element of the picture is provided by Marco’s daughter Chloe, a wonderfully charming performance by Elle Fanning, but her unforced sunniness only serves to alienate Johnny from us further, his scenes with her may be touching but his one moment of articulated self-pity “I’m fucking nothing” down the telephone negate his one redeeming feature, even she doesn’t appear to be enough to satisfy his ugly hyper-dependency.
Technically proficient though it may be, Somewhere suffers unsalvageably from its most central problem, that when asked by a journalist at the press conference for his latest film, “So who is Johnny Marco?” no one watching Coppola’s film will ultimately care.
Somewhere – 2010 – USA – 98 mins – Dir : Sofia Coppola
Screened as part of the Film on the Square strand at the London Film Festival.

1 comment:

  1. okay, i got my academy screener and we're all sitting here watching this and what the fuck? how is this about anything at all...? best picture at the venice film festival? whah??
    strange. it's like the film equivalent of a shrug. i mean - i've met francis coppola and the guy couldn't be this boring in his sleep -
    i don't get it. the only reason we haven't shut it off is that, as my friend says, "i wanna see what doesn't happen."
    and, of course, we all love the chateau marmont.
    the blue and yellow color scheme is nicely done. very consistent. orange and bronze when they're in italy.
    but really. even if you're trying to be antonioni -- she isn't. okay, here's a moment, when there's finally one instant of real emotion from the 11 year old girl, whose mother has abandoned ehr to this empty dad -
    but that's it.