Moody tale of dad and daughter

Sitting at a table in "Somewhere" are (from left) Chris Pontius, Elle Fanning, and Stephen Dorff.
Sitting at a table in "Somewhere" are (from left) Chris Pontius, Elle Fanning, and Stephen Dorff.
Posted: January 14, 2011

Although Somewhere begins with a black Ferrari tearing across the California desert, this is not Sofia Coppola's stab at an action pic. In fact, the sleek 360 Modena is going around in circles (true to its name!) - and then it just stops. Not much later, the driver, Hollywood star Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), repairs to his suite at the fabled Château Marmont on Sunset Strip and proceeds to nod off while twin strippers do a pole dance at the foot of his bed.

Somewhere, then, is a movie about inaction - about a thirtysomething actor who has found fame and wealth but seems to have lost any sense of purpose or passion. And like Coppola's Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette, it is a film about people of privilege (celebrities, royalty) sealed off in luxury - a five-star Tokyo hotel, Versailles, or, in Somewhere, the funky French Renaissance hostelry that has been home, down through the decades, to Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum, John Belushi.

For Johnny, whose head is fogged with pharmaceuticals and booze, and who shows up for a photo session to promote his latest release all disheveled and distracted ("You look great," his leading lady Michelle Monaghan cracks bitterly), the Château Marmont is a kind of prison. If that sounds like a cliché - it's lonely at the top, money can't buy happiness, yada-yada - indeed it is, but Coppola's eye for detail, her instinct for both whimsy and irony, and her ability to conjure a mood through the camera's lens make the hoary truisms of Somewhere feel new and real.

And then Elle Fanning enters the picture, and Somewhere becomes something else. As Cleo, Marco's 11-year-old daughter, Fanning appears unexpectedly by her hungover father's bed; it's their day together, and he has to take her to her figure-skating lesson.

When Cleo's mother calls later, in the throes of a personal crisis, and says that she has to get away, Johnny becomes the designated parent. He has to take care of Cleo and take her to school - and he also takes her on a trip to a film festival in Milan.

Suddenly, his rudderless life - the groupies, the drugs, the haze, the ennui - gives way to the realities of parenthood, to its pressures but also to its pleasures.

Dorff plays Johnny with a blankness that's fitting for the character, but it's a performance that's difficult to gauge. The actor has a scruffy charm, and he can do drugged-out and dispirited with easy conviction. But there's an emptiness here that may not all be coming from the character, or from Coppola's brushstrokes script.

Fanning, however, radiates a spirit and sensitivity that light up the pair's scenes together. Happily preparing eggs Benedict for her dad and his personal assistant-slash-pal (Jackass' Chris Pontius), or explaining the appeal of the Twilight franchise, or taking in the exotic amenities of an Italian hotel, or breaking into tears on a car ride, Fanning's Cleo emerges fully realized, a smart, sturdy, inquisitive soul. If the relationship between Scarlett Johansson's character and Bill Murray's in Lost in Translation was a stand-in father-daughter thing, in Somewhere the emotional and psychological complexities of that relationship are explored in deeper, more direct ways.

Ultimately, Somewhere may be too static, too minimalist a tale. But there's grace here, in its aching assessment of loneliness, in its examination of connections and family, and, yes, in its view through the windows of the Château Marmont, into a world of casual celebrityhood.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/.

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