Writer-director Sofia Coppola's Somewhere should stupefy anyone who's ever sat through a movie and complained afterward that "nothing happened." Because this is a real example of a movie where nothing happens. It's a stoned, hazy parade of minor incidents that accrete until they form one of the least immediately exciting movies of the new year.
In many ways, Coppola's film, about a famous actor (Stephen Dorff) and his relationship with his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning), feels like the prequel to her breakthrough, Lost in Translation, which starred Bill Murray as a middle-aged movie star and father who finds himself at an existential crossroads while filming a whiskey commercial in Japan. Both films feature men cut off from the world by bubbles of wealth and privilege, and although it is set in Southern California, Somewhere reprises Translation's bemused, jet-lagged bewilderment when its characters skip overseas for a disorienting episode at an Italian awards show. And there's a direct quotation of the memorable Translation moment when a young woman leans her sleepy head on an older man's shoulder.
Somewhere also implies that every Bill Murray began as someone like Dorff's Johnny Marco, a celebrity utterly anesthetized by fame and fortune. When jaded Johnny's not falling into bed with any woman who makes eye contact with him, he's smoking cigarettes and staring at the skyline from the balcony of his suite at the Chateau Marmont. He does almost nothing else with his time or his life; as an actor between roles, his main jobs are to meet the press and keep the cast on his broken left forearm dry.
Johnny is not a bad guy; he's just an empty one. Barely present for most of his days, he somehow flips a switch and shows real concern and compassion when he spends time with his daughter, Cleo, whose mother drops her off for an extended visit. Fanning's performance as Cleo deserves every accolade. Her displays of emotional intelligence, resourcefulness, and tween-age joy shame every recent Hollywood portrayal of young kids. Dorff and Fanning share several tender, affectionate scenes together. They have their conflicts, but it's clear her dad loves her even if he's not a model father. (Then again, who is?)
It takes courage to craft a movie so fascinated by the banalities of parenthood and celebrity, although the world of the star may never lose its appeal to those of us on the outside. However, this emphasis on the daily drift of the other half is occasionally knocked off balance by Coppola's portentous symbolism. For example, when Johnny plays Guitar Hero with Cleo, do they have to be playing along to "So Lonely" by the Police? At the film's opening, does Johnny have to drive four laps in the desert to convey how lost he is?
I'm at a loss to fully explain the pull of this drifting, inert cloud of a film. But it's working in a different register than most of the stuff in theaters right now, and it is definitely more exciting than the Oscars were.
Opening Friday, March 4th