Something happens

Coppola rises a bit above usual fuzzy fare in father-daughter bonding flick

Posted: January 14, 2011

"Somewhere" has prompted gripes that nothing much happens in it, and, by contemporary standards, that's true.

Feathers do not grow from Natalie Portman's shoulders, and she does not perform Swan Lake with a shard of glass in her abdomen.

Ben Stiller does not stick a syringe in Robert De Niro's junk.

Jason Statham does not kill or maim a zillion people (I say this at the risk of divulging plot details from "The Mechanic").

It's true that nothing like this happens in the observational, uneventful "Somewhere," but we should know by now that nothing much happens in Sofia Coppola movies.

That's her method. The most risible thing that Coppola has ever filmed is Bill Murray doing a karaoke cover of Roxy Music in "Lost in Translation," a movie that was nominated for an Oscar, leaving perplexed those who find the director's work listless and inscrutable.

They will find even less to latch onto in "Somewhere," another cinematic beta-blocker that takes place almost entirely in hotels, and peeks in at the directionless life of movie star Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) who lives on room service and who, from what I can tell, does not even have the wherewithal to be self-absorbed.

So it's more ammo for haters. In Coppola's defense, though, something does happen in "Somewhere." Over time, and in a dozen subtle ways, the movie star's neglected daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) tries to tell her disinterested part-time father how desperately she wants him to be a full-time part of her life.

Those looking for autobiography in Coppola's "Somewhere" will have a field day with this - a girl quietly pleading for the attention of her movie-biz dad.

Certainly, there are details here that seem to be drawn from personal experience, that feel true to father/daughter life, the way that Fanning's character, and Coppola, understand that connection to dad isn't about talking. It's about doing things together. The simple act of cooking, eating, lounging, hanging out.

That's shrewd and touching, and suited to Coppola's laid-back style.

There is another, weirder layer to the relationship - "Somewhere" has a big-time Electra vibe, and I don't mean the Buick.

This surfaces initially in Coppola's rather perverse ordering of two scenes. First we see Johnny in bed as he watches a pair of strippers perform a private show for him in the hotel room. Coppola then cuts to another private session - Johnny watching Cleo perform for him at a skating rink.

The first sequence is less erotic than it should be (the actor is clearly bored); the second, in the context of what we've just seen, is now not as innocent as it should be. Later, on two occasions, Coppola has the daughter competing for dad's attention with aggressive groupies.

Stack "Somewhere" on top of the chaste embraces, displaced sexual activity and father-daughter vibe between Murray and Scarlett Johansson in "Lost in Translation" and you've got quite a term paper developing. Go for it, film majors.

So, something does happen in "Somewhere." I lack the psychiatric qualifications to define it, but something happens.

Produced by G. Mac Brown, Roman Coppola and Sofia Coppola, written and directed by Sofia Coppola, music by Phoenix, distributed by Focus Features.

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