Do you ever feel like you’re looking at your own life through a telescope? Like the sound has been turned down and you don’t know what it’s all supposed to be about anymore?
In Sofia Coppola’s 2010 film Somewhere, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is an actor going through a personal crisis. Living at Hollywood’s famous Chateau Marmont Johnny seems to be caught up in currents beyond his control. Life is an endless round of press conferences, parties and beautiful women – but none of it really seems to mean anything. Johnny is living the sort of rootless existence you might imagine living alone in a hotel breeds, his life has a lack of stability and purpose and he is lacking a sense of self. At a press conference he is asked, ‘Who is Johnny Marco?’ which he is unable to reply to. And then his eleven year old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) appears and is entrusted to his care by his absent wife. Suddenly everything isn’t quite so empty and Johnny starts to look as if he is enjoying himself again- really enjoying himself – and life seems to have a newfound meaning. Cleo becomes a grounding influence.
I’m a big fan of Sofia Coppola and have followed her career closely. I think I find her films so comforting because she manages to capture that quiet day dreaming sort of mood that I am in a lot. Those days when you’re just wandering around in a daze, not really sure who you are or what you’re supposed to be doing. I always like the way her films shot as well, with a soft focus and carefully chosen colours (think of the pale pastels of Marie Antoinette). This is quite an intimate film, focusing entirely on Johnny and his daughter Cleo. It is a return to the examination of personal relationships as well as the way people behave while alone, similar to what Coppola achieved in Lost in Translation. Stephen Dorff is suitably unassuming as Johnny, and if it weren’t for the photoshoots and the way he casually drives around in a Ferrari he might be just a regular guy – the glamour of Hollywood is not to be found here. Even when Johnny and his daughter go to Italy and stay in a sumptuous hotel room (with personal swimming pool) Johnny still does not look or feel like ‘real’ Hollywood, he’s missing the designer clothes, the high polish, the primadonna qualities that you might associate with an established starlet.
There are a lot of quiet reflective moments, some comfortable silences, some uncomfortable ones. There is not a great amount of dialogue; indeed it is fifteen minutes before anyone (Johnny – finally) utters a word. At times there is a focus on what is not being said, as in Lost in Translation. Coppola successfully captures the quiet moments of Johnny’s life, while making the viewer feel comfortable to be alone with him; drinking a solitary beer, smoking on the balcony, driving late at night.
As in some of her other films there are some subtly amusing scenes. The film begins with Johnny watching identical blonde twins pole dancing in his hotel room. The twins are reflected in a mirror behind them and there is something ridiculous and pathetic about the charade (which all looks a bit Diane Arbus). There is an interesting contrast between the way Johnny watches the twins with a smile on his face that isn’t quite real, and the way he watches Cleo ice-skating or swimming, with genuine affection.
Throughout the film Johnny receives anonymous abusive phone messages. These are never explained or developed into a story line, I think perhaps they are symbolic of the Johnny’s insecurities and they are thoughts rising from his own consciousness as much as anything else. At the end you want Johnny to find some redemption, to wake up to how important Cleo should be in his life, to find something concrete to hold onto.
Trivia tidbit: As a child Sofia Coppola stayed with her family in the same hotel room (with swimming pool) in Italy that Johnny and his daughter occupy.
I have found an excellent interview with Sophia Coppola about Somewhere here: