This film would be worth seeing if you had just taken valium. Presumably you would have some vague but persistent back pain–so distracting in itself that you could hardly commit to anything more challenging than this tedious attempt at a moving story. Perhaps your discomfort would help you empathise with our broken-armed but otherwise unsympathetic lead, the actor Johnny Marco. And while you watched him doze off on his hotel bed, feeling disillusioned, lazy, and disillusioned by his own laziness, while two laughably plastic twins performed a personal strip show, you might feel yourself mirroring his idle complacence. Finally, as the valium coursed through your body you would dreamily forget that this scene was unashamedly similar to another one from director Sofia Coppola’s earlier film Lost In Translation.
Unfortunately, Somewhere has so many tropes from Sofia’s erstwhile Oscar winner, the themes are so obviously self-derivative, and yet devoid of anything like the neon beauty of nocturnal Tokyo, that we cannot help but ask: Why should I be any more invested in the life of this pitiless lead than he is himself?
Readily lodged in the public eye from her birth, growing up alongside her revered and prodigal father (Francis Ford), Sofia Coppola may boast a hefty pallet of personal complexes to fuel her directorial output: an acute distaste for soulless celebrity life in LA, contempt for the corrosive nature of fame and the parasites who feed off it; the alienation of a young girl struggling to connect with her preoccupied father. These ideas all trickle through artfully enough, in what could be described as an occasionally touching portrait of an unhealthy father-daughter relationship. However, while Lost In Translation charts the unusual connection between two lives, here the inspiration derives from a kind of moral hollowness. While this gives rise to moments of sadness or amusement, the stagnant pace and ultimate lack of progression make for a rather dull viewing experience.
Stephen Dorff plays the spoilt and uninspired actor who whiles away his days at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles, alternately subjecting himself to flings with floozies and tiresome PR for his latest film, ‘Berlin Agenda’. The film opens with an audaciously long shot of Johnny driving his car around in circles in the desert, and continues in much the same way – circular and unchanging. Whether the actor is flying to Milan to conduct mistranslated interviews for Italian press, or sitting perfectly still while effects artists make a suffocating gloopy cast of his face, the film flows like a collection of subtle vignettes rather than a connected narrative.
The interesting aspect is how his daughter Clio re-enters his life, and the role she plays. The bright and talanted 11 year-old is dropped off by her similarly preoccupied mother, allowing the two some time together. But Johnny is too distracted or immature to bring any real substance to his child’s life; if anything, she is more a maternal figure to him than he is paternal to her.
Admittedly, it’s hard not to be affected by Clio’s disapproving glance at her father’s One Night Stand as she sits blithely at the breakfast table; or when Clio starts to cry because no one will be there for her when she returns from summer camp. But the problems underlying this flawed dynamic fail to surface; they never amount to more than a stylistically cool, observational aesthetic. The most curious questions are presented without drama, so we are left with very little sense of change. Ok, that’s the whole point, it’s a critique of careless lives in LA. However, this moral abyss prevents the film from being engaging, poignant, visually pleasing or even particularly funny.
As for the final shot – Johnny’s gesture of defiance and stupidity – I would have to agree with Peter Bradshaw: it’s probably ‘the daftest thing I’ve seen for a long time’. Somewhere may not exactly leave you “Vergin’ Suicide” (sorry, I had to), but is it really worth the risk?