So, a few weeks ago, some of my fellow pop culturally inclined writers were talking about the worst movies of 2010. I had, earlier, declared Love and Other Drugs to be the worst film of 2010 and I was told to hold off on making that judgment until I saw Sofia Coppola’s latest film, Somewhere. At this point, another writer chimed in to let me know that he hadn’t heard one good word about Somewhere.
At that point, I made a prediction. Simply based on the movie’s trailer (which played at Plano Angelika for 5 months before it actually opened in Dallas last week) and the fact that so many people seemed to hate this film with such a passion, I predicted that Somewhere would probably turn out to be one of my favorite films of the year.
I saw the film last Saturday and it turns out I was correct. I absolutely loved Somewhere.
In many ways, Somewhere feels like a prequel to Coppola’s Lost In Translation. Somewhere tells the story of Hollywood actor Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) who, despite being a film star — if not, its implied, a particularly respected actor — spends his days wandering through life in a haze of ennui. At the start of the film, he drunkenly breaks his arm and, when not promoting an upcoming action film, he spends his days recovering at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. He smokes a lot of cigarettes, drinks a lot of beer, and languidly lies in bed while twin pole dancers do their routines in front of him. The first fourth of the film is devoted to establishing Johnny’s shallow daily routine with the only excitement coming from insulting text messages that he occasionally receives. Right when you’re wondering how much more of Johnny Marco’s existential crisis you can handle, his 11 year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning, who gives a surprisingly mature performance) shows up and both Johnny and the movie suddenly spring to life.
Cleo’s mother has basically abandoned her daughter, calling up Johnny and explaining that she needs “to find” herself. Until Cleo is scheduled to start at summer camp, she tags along with Johnny on his day-to-day life. They go to Italy where Johnny promotes his latest film and answers vapid questions at a hilariously awkward press conference and then accepts an award during a televised ceremony even though he’s not quite sure what the award is for. Back in the states, Cleo and Johnny hang out at the hotel, discuss the plot of Twilight, and finally — on the way to summer camp — Johnny takes her to Vegas.
With the exception of one scene, Cleo and Johnny never discuss why he’s no longer with her mother nor do they address the issue that both of her parents are essentially abandoning Cleo. However, even though it’s never addressed directly, the movie is full of clues for those who are willing to pay attention. We actually learn very little about why Johnny is the way he is but, again, Coppola fills every scene with hints and then allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions. None of the film’s mysteries are directly explained — we never learn who is sending Johnny the angry text messages nor do we ever learn the full significance of a phone call Johnny makes to an unseen woman named Layla — but the explanations are there and, in Coppola’s assured and subtle hands, the search for those explanations ultimately turns into a portrait of a society full of lost human beings who have lost the ability to connect.
Admittedly, one reason why I loved this film is because the relationship between Johnny and Cleo reminded me a good deal of my relationship with my own dad. So much of the film rang painfully true to me that I was thankful for the many moments where Cleo and Johnny were just allowed to be a normal father and daughter. I’m thinking of the moments were Cleo explains to plot of Twilight or where, during their trip to Italy, Cleo sits in the hotel lobby and concentrates on Sudoku. It was moments like this that rang so true to me and it’s these moments that made Somewhere one of my favorite movies of 2010.