‘Somewhere’ movie review: Sofia Coppola film is Antonioni-lite

Like most of director Sofia Coppola’s work (Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette), Somewhere is slow and pretentious and ultimately worthwhile. 

It’s a film easier to appreciate than actively enjoy – a read-between-the-scenes kind of experience – filled with little dialogue and long, long takes with little action, lots of time for meditation and soul searching in the dark confines of a cinema. Antonioni-lite.

It’s all about the tough, tough life of a womanizing, hard-partying, international movie star. You know, how all the sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll really take their toll on those poor Hollywood superstars. Yeah, this won’t appeal to all tastes, but in an era where the media is waiting with bated breath for the inevitable Charlie Sheen meltdown, I think Somewhere is especially relevant.

The Hollywood superstar is Johnny Marco, played, ironically, by Stephen Dorff. I say ironically because the last two Dorff performances I took note of were in Cecil B. Demented and Space Truckers. Here, he’s a Cruise-level star living at the Chateau Marmont in L.A. (where John Belushi overdosed in 1982) who attends a festival in Rome to pick up an award. That is, in-between the drinking, drugs, and women.

More important is the 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), who comes into his life (we presume) unexpectedly. More or less abandoned by her mother, Cleo spends the time with Johnny by playing Guitar Hero, cooking him breakfast, and going ice skating. It’s important to note that there’s no attempt at a traditional storytelling here; we just observe the mundane day-to-day life of these characters.

It’s certainly not for everyone. It’s difficult to describe the experience of watching Somewhere. The film begins with a minutes-long shot of a Ferrari racing around a track, and progresses to a minutes-long shot of twin strippers dancing around a portable pole in Marco’s hotel room (hint: these scenes are equally boring). 

These shots might be compared to watching paint dry, but then we’d at least get a sense of progression. Here, Marco feels like he’s nothing, and going nowhere, and Coppola effectively conveys that to her audience through the endless monotony and repetition.

The weight of the film rests upon the shoulders of Dorff and Fanning; if they’re not right, this thing collapses under all the pretentiousness. But they’re both excellent, effortlessly conveying the kind of disarmingly “normal” people that we see so little of in cinema. 

The cinematography plays a big role here too, making sure to capture every last minute detail; it’s by Harris Savides, who also shot a trio of Gus Van Sant films that would make a good comparison here – Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days.

This review might sound a little dismissive. Somewhere is extremely pretentious, it isn’t exactly profound, and it tests the limits of our patience more than any of the director’s previous films. But ultimately, it’s a worthwhile and memorable experience, a film that isn’t so much about what it shows us but about how it makes us feel; what we’re thinking during all those extended takes. It’s an art film. When did that become a bad thing?

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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