Thursday, May 26, 2011

FI: Somewhere

US, 2010
Directed by Sofia Coppola

Somewhere offers a window into the life of Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a 30-something actor adrift in Los Angeles's oddly-isolating celebrity culture. Marco stays at the Chateau Marmont (immortalized in song as the "Hotel California"), stuck in neutral until an unexpected visit from his teenage daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) provides him with the potential to free himself. It is a film about the banality of hedonism, above all else, but also a film that wants to suggest the redeeming powers of familial love, responsibility, and making real connections

Whether or not Somewhere achieves its ambitions is hard to say. Coppola clearly wants to depict Johnny as maladapted to the Hollywood lifestyle, and she conveys his deadened emotional state quite well through static camera work and well-conceived, restrained performances. But her focus on Johnny's ennui also prevents the film from developing any sense of urgency, with scenes coming and going in an almost incidental fashion. True, this allows for a slow accretion of meaningful details, and gives the viewer agency in making meaning out of what's on screen. But it also dampens the impact of the things that supposedly cause Johnny to change, forcing us to intuit his arc through guesswork rather than plotting it along some clearly-developed structure. Is this good or bad? I'm not really sure. Obvious, signposted filmic transformations are, in most cases, worse than hesitatingly-articulated ones, but Coppola's evocation of Johnny's inertia is almost too thorough; it's hard to "feel" his journey when so much of the film is about being unable to feel.

To be sure, Somewhere is not an entertainment, or a film suited for mass audiences. Its slowness can be boring, its flatness unengaging. It has its own particular rhythms, and if you can fall into step with these rhythms, you'll probably be more tolerant of its excesses than someone who cannot. While I thought the film needed more energy to be as meaningful as it seems to think it is, it is also too well-made and well-performed to be dismissed outright. It left the sort of neutral-to-positive impression that I often get from films that might have depths worth exploring in subsequent viewings. I'm just not sure if Somewhere actually possesses those depths, or if I only want it to as a way of justifying its apparent lack of vitality.

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