71% on Rotten Tomatoes
4/4 by Roger Ebert
This was quite possibly one of the strangest and most disappointing movies I’ve ever seen. Sofia Coppola must know someone in the business. I’m not really sure what I was expecting – this was one of those DVDs that I’d been eyeing on my library shelves for years but never picked up, always opting for something newer and more bold.
That being said, the film presents a few interesting points.
Stephen Dorff plays Johnny Marco – a movie star hiding away in the Chateau Marmont. In an early scene in the film we find him staring aimlessly at a pair of blond strippers who look like they are about 14, giving him a double pole dance to the Foo Fighters’ song “Hero.” I’m not sure what angered me more about this scene – the fact that these girls look like they just got off the school bus, or the fact that I now associate one of my favorite Foo songs with this nasty ass scene.
Marco appears to feel nothing, to care about nothing, to do nothing. He doesn’t touch the girls, he doesn’t touch himself. He is simply there. This continues throughout the film. We’re not really sure if he’s based in reality, if he’s experiencing things, or if his life is passing him by. Now I know that others will watch this and point out that he is suffering from a classic case of male depression, the ennui of the rich and famous. And to an extent, he is. His career seems to give him little satisfaction, as he moves through the press junkets and Q&A’s as carelessly as going to the grocery store. It seems he has painted himself into a corner, except, unlike the Hank Moody types, he seems to have grown tired of the Hollywood scene – the drugs, the sex, the endless cloud of cigarette smoke.
The film’s only saving grace might be Marco’s pre-teen daughter, Cleo, played by Elle Fanning. She is the quintessential traditional in a sea of lackadaisical upbringing. She seems to adore spending time with her father, first during an impromptu visit and then for an extended stay when her mother seems to undergo a bit of a meltdown – leaving her with her father with no talk of a return date. Cleo’s clothing seems almost a throwback to 1950s housedress, as she calmly prepares eggs Benedict for her oversleeping dad, complete with fresh cut chives. We don’t know how much of her doting nature can be attributed to her mother, whom we know little about, or if it stems from the all too familiar role reversal that children raised without structure adopt.
Either way, her acting is superb – her movements and graceful and butterfly-like. She moves like a dancer, and even seems to even surprise her father. I think my favorite scene from the film is the one in which Marco accompanies Cleo to ice skating class and watches her perform a complicated routine — you see in his face that he is shocked by how talented she is. This moment captures the point in a parent’s life when they realize their child is actually a person, a separate entity altogether. Marco, perhaps from spending too much time with flighty Hollywood types, seems surprised at how much love Cleo shows him, and in return, Cleo wants only from her father what all children want from their parents: unconditional love. Their relationship is what made this film bearable to me — it’s a quiet exploration at how simple a parent/child relationship can be. A heartbreaking moment occurs when, after spending the summer with Marco, Cleo breaks down on the drive to her summer sleep-away camp, saying “I don’t know when Mom is coming back, and you’re never around!” We watch Marco’s face, looking for some hint of revelation, but he gives us none, simply comforting his daughter by putting an arm around her.
The end of the film is ambiguous, I assume deliberately so. Marco drives out to the dessert, abandons his car, and begins walking. We’re not sure if he’s going to off himself, to pick up Cleo, or to begin another version of On the Road to coincide with his midlife crisis. To me, the film raises a few questions, and personally, I wasn’t interested in answering them. The end of the film didn’t matter to me. It didn’t seem Coppola was out to create a linear storyline, more that she wanted to represent the way life really is — that we don’t know where we’re going from moment to moment. It almost seems as though Johnny Marco, having lived the Hollywood cliche for so many years, has turned into one — the next chapter in his story seems to be performed rather than genuinely lived. Is it a tragic ending? I think so — but then again, you can argue that tragedy is life, and therefore there is some redemption in this final effort.
What did you think of Somewhere? Did it take you anywhere?