‘Somewhere’: Trip to Nowhere or Wondrous Fantasy? (Review)

Somewhere
Elle Fanning and Stephen Dorff spend some quality time together. (Focus Features)

‘Somewhere,’ the latest film from Sophia Coppola (‘Lost in Translation’) begins with a series of long, extended shots that seemingly exist only to test the patience of the viewer.

It’s quickly established that Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a movie star leading a lonely, listless existence. He has been in long-term residence at the Chateau Marmont, a famed luxury hotel in Hollywood known for its exclusive clientele and strict policies on privacy. He awakens each day to a phone call from Marge (Amanda Anka), presumably his personal assistant (we never see her in person), informing him of the arrangements that have been made for him  to fulfill his promotional obligations for his latest film. He comes home to his hotel room each evening, often to an unexpected party consisting of friends and strangers invited by his friend Sammy (Chris Pontius), and then spends the night in bed with whatever random stripper, party guest, or fellow hotel habitue happens to fall within his line of sight.

All proceeds in numbing, routine fashion until the weekly arrival of his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning). Johnny comes fully to life, the two spend a few hours together, and then Johnny drops her at her mother’s house. Clearly, Cleo is the best thing that’s ever happened to Johnny, even if he doesn’t remember that Cleo has been ice skating for three years. With Cleo gone, the spark goes out of Johnny.

Everything changes when Cleo comes to stay with Johnny while her mother (Lala Sloatman) “takes some time for herself.”

It’s only for a limited number of days — Cleo is heading off soon for a few weeks in summer camp — but Johnny initially balks at the idea of caring for his daughter for more than a few hours. We wonder if he’s up to the task; after all, he’s been living his life as a spoiled, extremely dependent child.

There is no period of adjustment for Cleo, however. She is more mature than him in certain ways; she has no hesitation, for example, in ordering food and kitchen utensils from room service so she can cook up a good meal for him. She’s nonplussed about traveling with him to Italy and keeping herself occupied while he is carrying out his promotional duties. She takes delight in the glamorous side of his profession, though she’s not terribly receptive to the friendly overtures of a young woman who has spent the night.

Cleo has got it together, in other words, to a much greater extent than dear old Dad.

‘Somewhere’ plays best as a cautionary fable for children about the perils of fame. Cleo enjoys all the perks that wealth has to offer; money makes life a lot more fun. But being a celebrity, like her father, is not a good thing. Johnny is unhappy, constantly besieged by assorted fans, journalists, and groupies of every stripe. It’s only when he’s with Cleo that Johnny can enjoy any semblance of peace and happiness.

That reading of the film did not come easily or quickly to me, and I have no idea if that’s actually what Coppola, who wrote and directed, intended. (Frankly, I don’t care about her intentions; I care about what’s on screen.) But, taken in that light, it makes perfect sense that Cleo’s father has no life except when he’s with her. (Actually, we know it’s a fantasy when Dean and Cleo secure a parking space directly in front of a Big 5 Sporting Goods store. In real life, that never happens, especially in Los Angeles.)

Viewed as a straight commentary on the plight of the rich and famous, ‘Somewhere’ is a boring and plodding trip to nowhere. Viewed as a moral fable or, better yet, as a girl’s fantasy about an imagined close relationship with her distant father, ‘Somewhere’ is light, magical, and entirely delightful, a wondrous adventure.

You decide which is right for you. I’m on Cleo’s side.

‘Somewhere’ opens today at Landmark Magnolia.

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