Unembellished Somewhere a minimalist beauty
 

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posted Friday, January 7, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 01

Unembellished Somewhere a minimalist beauty
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Somewhere
Opening January 7


Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a famous action star who broke his wrist during a drunken night partying in his legendary Hollywood hotel the Chateau Marmont. His 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) visits occasionally, and the two have a good time playing games, going to the skating rink, and lounging by the pool. After his ex-wife up and vanishes, Johnny takes Cleo with him to Europe on a promotional tour for his latest film before getting her to summer camp a few weeks later.

As far as descriptions go, that's pretty much it for writer/director Sophia Coppola's latest, Somewhere. Much like Lost in Translation  maybe even more so  this is strictly an observational exercise, a stripped-down form of filmmaking that Michelangelo Antonioni or Jean-Pierre Melville would have been proud to call their own. Not much happens, not much changes; everyone simply goes through the motions of their lives, figuring things out as they move slowly along.

There is a simple beauty to this form of filmmaking that is undeniable. I was completely captivated  first frame to last, I couldn't take my eyes off of what Coppola was choosing to show me. Everything plays like a snapshot of a life aloof, a life potentially wasted, a life currently in flux, a series of brief vignettes of a father trying to decide who he is and what the next step should be.

All that being so, there is a part of me that wishes there were more in the way of meat on these bones. Marco doesn't really do anything. He smokes. He drinks. He watches happily as a couple of blonde strippers do their routine on portable poles right in the comfy confines of his own bedroom. He drives Cleo around. They play Rock Band, listen to an old man sing a song in the lobby, and make breakfast together. He goes on press junkets. He gets a full workup at a special effects studio to prepare for a future role.

But does anything concrete happen? Does anyone come to any sort of big realizations about their lives and where they want to go from here? No, not really, and the ending is ambiguous. When I said this movie was observational, I wasn't kidding. Coppola wants us to watch and make up our minds as to whether or not Marco's doing anything with his life, giving us no answers and no definitions because doing so would influence us  and that is precisely the one thing she doesn't want to do.

This can be frustrating. There were times I wanted to yell at the screen and force Marco to do something and not just sit there like a sack of potatoes. I wanted Cleo to tell him off, to let him know how his actions make her feel. I wanted someone  anyone  to give him a verbal dressing-down, and the one brief instance that this does indeed happen (by the likes of Michelle Monaghan, no less) is so out of left field it almost didn't register.

But I say, 'So what?' Coppola stages things in an extremely appealing manner, and the film moves from scene to scene with a delectable and mesmerizing grace. The picture is superbly shot by the great Harris Savides (Zodiac), and everything has a minimalist sheen that allows the viewer to disappear inside the images. Both Dorff and Fanning are wonderful, and by the time it was over, I was almost sad to see their story end.

Much like September's The American, this won't be for everyone. Even more so than Anton Corbijn's hit man thriller, the lack of anything of substance for viewers to latch onto can be jarring. But audiences looking for something different  something with intelligence, grace, and nerve, something that allows them to come to their own conclusions and ideas about what's going on  will find much to love about the unembellished character-driven beauty that is Sofia Coppola's Somewhere.



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