***originally written 14 December 2010***
Complaining that Somewhere is slow is foolish. It’s like complaining that a Michael Bay film has explosions. Sofia Coppola has made her name with slow moving, thoughtful pictures, absorbed in the minutiae and nuance of human behaviour. Her films thus far have been exquisitely framed, languid and poetic, heartfelt and beautiful, one and all. And all patiently paced. Slow-moving character studies are what she DOES. To get irked that she’s done it again feels pretty pointless.
That said, Somewhere is glacial. It makes Lost In Translation seem like an action movie. It begins with a locked-off shot of it’s central character, Hollywood movie star Johnny Marco (Steven Dorff), driving his sports car around a circuit. Later he has his head cast and we stare at him for two full minutes as he sits there covered in putty. He sits there and we listen to his breathing. The first half an hour contains a nearly-tiresome number of shots of Johnny just sitting and smoking. In fact, a lot of the time in this movie nothing is happening.
Johnny is successful, but his life is empty. He is also possibly narcoleptic. He lives in a hotel. He has pole-dancing twins over and watches them with complete disinterest. He appears to have slept with more or less every woman he comes in to contact with, and most of them seem to regret it. He likes to drive his car. And that’s more or less it for Johnny. Lather, rinse, repeat.
He also has a daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning). It’s only when she is dumped on him by her flaky mother that the film comes to life at all. And even then, it’s a mild transition. Their relationship is fractured and quiet. This isn’t a dialogue-heavy piece by any means. He takes her to practice her ice-skating. They play Guitar Hero and Wii. She makes breakfast. It’s all very patient, very simple, strangely voyeuristic. Perhaps a comment on our general fascination with celebrities.
Dorff’s performance is actually quite brilliant. I didn’t really notice him doing anything for the majority of the movie, but then I came to realise that he had made Johnny Marco a whole person right before my eyes. The film and it’s characters seep into you. At first they seem hollow… but somewhere along the way they become people. Yes, it’s slow, but it’s taking it’s time for a reason. Without this stillness you wouldn’t see these characters nearly as well.
It’s not hard to realise the film’s trajectory; the ice between father and daughter thaws. They talk more. They begin to enjoy each other’s company. They become a team. If it sounds saccharine, it isn’t. Coppola is more deft than that. Everything is presented plainly. One senses she’d make some fascinating documentaries if she put her mind to it. Sure there are a couple of moments when the subtext is shoved in your face a little too bluntly, but they are forgivable. If they weren’t there, the film might simply dissolve.
If it sounds like I didn’t enjoy the movie then I’m giving the wrong impression. I love stuff like this. If I made features they’d be Sofia Coppola-esque features. THIS has been the movie I’ve been looking forward to for most of the year. Whilst everyone else was counting down to Inception or Kick-Ass, I was bemoaning how long it still was until Somewhere came out. The Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation are two of my very favourite films. Yeah, Marie Antoinette had it’s problems, but it’s undeniably beautiful. Ultimately Somewhere probably sits in the middle of her body of work, but I anticipate this one becoming a grower. To her detractors, it will merely be fodder. If you find her other movies too leisurely paced, don’t even bother. But if you’re a sucker for the little details then there’s plenty to sink into in Somewhere. And not an explosion in sight.