[Our thanks to Shelagh Rowan-Legg for the following review.]
Quentin Tarantino received a great deal of controversy when the jury at the Venice International Film Festival, of which he was the head, awarded the Golden Lion to Sofia Coppola's Somewhere. Many felt that he gave to her merely because she was an ex-girlfriend, and that there were far superior and more deserving films. While his reasons for doing so might have been perhaps more to do with the content, I can add my voice of dissent. Coppola's latest opus is not an extraordinary character piece, but rather an almost mind-numbing and dull look at a man who deserves almost no empathy and whose life contains little struggle or difficulty.
Stephen Dorff plays Johnny Marco, a movie star (definitely not an actor) who lives at a hotel, drinks beer, smokes, parties, drives a fancy car, doesn't need to wear nice clothes, sleeps with numerous women, and has more money than he really knows what to do with. He sees his daughter, Cleo, on occasional, and they have a solid relationship. All this is established in the first half hour of the film. So far this is fine, this is what you do in a character study: show the viewer what his life is like, introduce the other characters, and then throw a wrench in the works. But the wrench fails to appear. At one point, there is a hint of trouble, when Cleo's mother calls Johnny to say she is leaving for a while to take some time for herself, and he must make sure he gets Cleo to camp on time. After nearly falling asleep several times up to this point, I perked up, thinking that trouble would ensue and we would be treated to some family breakdown. No such luck. Johnny takes Cleo to Italy on a press tour; they have a wonderful time. Only once does Cleo begin to cry over her missing mother; Johnny takes her for a last night out of family fun, and all is well again.
I expect Coppola had in mind a study of a man who discovers his life really is nothing. But there is a difference between Johnny, and say Randy in The Wrestler or George in A Single Man: Johnny's life has no struggle. Yes, in many ways, as a movie star, his life is not his own, but he certainly doesn't suffer. Women who in one scene call him an asshole will sleep with him in the next. He can afford to live in a nice hotel and drive a Ford Mustang. His relationship with his daughter barely wavers. Towards the end of the film he starts to cry, realizing how empty his life is. But whose fault is it but his? All I could think was, boo-hoo. The last few scenes of the film offer a change, in that Johnny seems to be trying to turn himself around. But then it ends; that should have been where it begun.
I understand the attempt at minimalism in order to let the story have room to breathe; the problem is, there is no story. Every time something potentially interesting happens, Coppola sweeps any possible sadness or difficulty away. Dorff's performance seems to be a valiant attempt at quiet nuance but ends up blank. The only bright point of the film is Elle Fanning's performance of Cleo. She lights up the screen; but then again, that could have been the effect of everything else being completely lacklustre.
Coppola is simply not a strong enough director to maintain longs shots of people lounging around in chaises in the sunshine and expect her audience to care. I suppose one could look at the film as a slice of real life. But we don't go to films (or plays, or read, or enjoy art) just to watch ordinary things. And perhaps the lfie of a Hollywood film star sounds good on paper, but the reality (or supposed reality) that Coppola is portraying is exceedingly dull. It might appeal to people like Tarantino, but it fails to impress on virtually every level.
Review by Shelagh Rowan-Legg
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