In “Somewhere” director Sophia Coppola brings a very European sensibility to that most American of subjects — the life of a Hollywood star.
Stephen Dorff is Johnny Marco, a movie star between projects. He lives at the swanky Chateau Marmont, which is sort of an upscale boarding house for celebrities located just off LA’s Sunset Strip. Pole dancers come and go, parties are held, pills are popped and one day bleeds into the next. In a more traditional movie a lifestyle epiphany would accompany the arrival of his 11-year-old daughter (Dakota’s little sister Elle Fanning) but this isn’t a traditional movie.
The movie plays like a tone poem rather than a conventional movie. Long stretches pass by without any dialogue, or even scenes that forward the story. But to be fair, “Somewhere” isn’t about story, it’s about establishing a feeling. Coppola spends virtually the entire 97 minute running time exploring the minutia of Marco’s empty life. It’s the de-glamorization of the Hollywood dream revealing the isolated and private life of a public figure.
Scenes, or rather, set pieces, amplify Marco’s seclusion. Bored looking strippers — complete with portable poles — come to his room, he throws parties filled with people he doesn’t know and passes out during some anonymous sex. There’s no joy, no celebration, just emptiness. Its ground Coppola has tread before (and better) in her other hotel based movie “Lost in Translation,” but here she adds large dollops of ambiguity. In an era where every celebrity foible becomes tabloid fodder Coppola chooses to underplay the underbelly of celebrity, neither playing up the allure nor amplifying the seediness. The lack of any real intimate moments renders the portrait incomplete, but Dorff’s melancholy performance adds depth to a basically superficial take on celebrity life.
Some will find “Somewhere’s” thinly carved slice-of-life approach self indulgent, others will think it is insightful but I found the style of the film, which overpowers whatever substance may be lurking beneath the pretty pictures, hypnotic.
Toronto was lucky enough to get an official Premiere for Sofia Coppola’s highly-anticipated new Film Somewhere, winner of the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival this September. The festivities took place at Varsity Cinema where its star Stephen Dorff came by to greet an intimate audience, which included many close friends made over the years in his many visits to the City. In fact, Dorff filmed his first Movie ever, The Gate, in Toronto back in 1986 and since then the Los Angeles native’s career has seen many highs including starring roles in important Films like Backbeat, Blade and Cecil B. Demented. He completes two full days of Press in the City tomorrow.
Dropping by quickly the introduce what he called “the most important film of his career”, Dorff was presented by CTV’s Canada AM Film Critic Richard Crouse and returned post-Screening for a Q&A. Dressed in a well-cut Suit, Dorff arrived exactly as expected – ruggedly handsome. The Actor who surprisingly is diminutive compared to his on-screen presence, undoubtedly is proud of his work here.
Somewhere is a story about a lonely Film Star perhaps past his prime, Johnny Marco, who calls the famed Château Marmont home. He is a Playboy – bedding many adoring Women – drinking and partying heavily, or as one anonymous spiteful ex-Lover succinctly calls him in a Text Message, “an Asshole”. One day his twelve year-old Daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota) shows up unexpectedly for an undetermined period as her Mother must sort out some personal issues. Although interfering with his structure-free lifestyle, Johnny soon finds the experience rewarding, ultimately forcing him to re-evaluate his priorities in life in having been spoiled by Hollywood as an eternal adolescent.
Dorff admitted to Crouse and the audience, “I couldn’t have played this role ten years ago” and only after his Mother Nancy had fallen ill, subsequently passing away, did he acquire the maturity and depth required in the quiet role of Johnny. Coppola wrote the Screenplay for Somewhere specifically with Dorff in mind and his admiration for her was mutual, praising her unique vision. “She (Coppola) wants us to observe her characters like a fly on the wall” says Dorff, indicating that he felt really challenged by his role – despite having much screen-time, he has little to say; he felt stripped of all his tricks.
In preparation for the Film, Dorff was given bonding assignments by Coppola to get him better acquainted with his on-screen Daughter. “I’d have to pick Elle up from school, realizing that my car stank of Cigarettes and this helped put me into the role Johnny that much easier”, he recalled. Dorff also took her out for Ice Cream, only to realize that Fanning much prefers Frozen Yogurt. Before he knew it, they had transformed convincingly into Father and Daughter.
Although I was hoping v. much for it to have premiered this September at TIFF, I am thrilled to have been able to review this fourth effort from superlative Coppola. Due to a Press Embargo though, I won’t be able to post my Review until Wednesday, so please remember to check back. Somewhere will open in select cities December 22, 2010 and everywhere on January 7, 2011 via Focus Features/Alliance Films.