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Monday, January 17, 2011

Film Review | Somewhere

Nowhere Man

by Thomas Delapa

Somewhere inside Somewhere there might be a good movie trying to break out, but I doubt it. Director Sofia Coppola’s painfully understated meditation on Hollywood celebrity is nearly as shallow as its subject.

Decadently ensconced at L.A.’s ritzy Chateau Marmont hotel is Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), an A-list, bad-boy movie star who’s tres bored and between pictures. Johnny is so jaded that he falls asleep while twin blond pole dancers writhe at his feet in his room. By day he buzzes around town in his sleek black Ferrari, trolling for women. By night, he gets them. To a succession of loose, luscious females, all he has to say is, “Hi, I’m Johnny,” and he’s off for a tumble.

Have we not had our fill of stories about debauched and narcissistic American screen idols? Coppola has no reservations about yet another sequel, and proceeds to unreel a bite-sized, saccharine version of La Dolce Vita. You have to wonder why the producers would give the green light to this project, considering that Dorff gives the impression of black hole rather than big star. If we want to believe that Johnny is the “biggest U.S. star”—a la Leonardo DiCaprio or a Brad Pitt—we at least need to know what makes him shine.

But the Lost in Translation director is less interested in Johnny as in his flickering relationship with his estranged 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning). With his ex-wife out of town, Johnny gets to play father for a few weeks. You don’t need to read People magazine to get the feeling that Coppola is rummaging somewhere in the autobiographical basement, furnished with memories of her relationship with her own famous ex-Hollywood father, director Francis Ford Coppola.

The meandering, impressionistic (or lazy) plot perks up when Fanning’s sunny Cleo rises in Johnny’s deadened life. While he’s lost in a haze of casual sex and breezy, air-kiss encounters, Cleo is all that is pure, true and good in the female world. Not only does she ice skate with ethereal grace, but she cooks up a happy meal, too.

All this might be palatable had not Coppola served it up as something fresh and revelatory, instead of the rehash that it is. Father and daughter even voyage to Italy, land of the original La Dolce Vita, and embark on a garish publicity tour that might have come out of 1960s Fellini outtakes. It’s never a good sign when a film’s best scenes don’t include its lead actor—as when Cleo and Johnny’s slacker friend (Chris Pontius) hang out and riff some small talk while they play Guitar Hero.

With Coppola and similar indie directors today, there’s a new vogue for episodic movie minimalism. On the surface, that’s all well and good, but preciously self-conscious long takes are only window dressing if there’s nothing to watch behind the curtain. While Johnny’s extended stay takes place in the chic environs of the Chateau Marmont, the low-rent plot feels like it was picked up somewhere near Motel 6.



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