Thursday, December 23, 2010
The star of the picture is Stephen Dorff, who has the grizzled unshaven face of a forgotten matinee idol perhaps long past his prime. He plays Johnny Marco, the matinee idol long past his prime lodging and hanging in the hotel, not doing much of anything. We follow his daily ritual at the start of the film, which involves getting threatening text messages from an anonymous caller, drinking beer and chain-smoking, casual skirt chasing. He ends most days watching two blonde pole dancers prance around his room-- they provide their own poles. When asked at a party by an interloper what his acting methods are, he says he doesn't have any, and that's the feeling come across by Dorff's performance. He isn't quite acting, he just is, and with the utmost minimalism, he carries Somewhere quite beautifully, going along for the sparkly little mood piece that Coppola has so tenderly rendered.
The first reel, I would suggest, is going to be hardest to sit through, especially for the audience not completely embracing of Coppola's consummate style and control. It's largely dialogue-free, and more of a series of vignettes than a cohesive beginning. What's successful about it is in slowly unraveling the hermetic, melancholy, albeit very pampered existence (or lack thereof) of it's leading man. Whether living the life of solitary leisure at the Marmont, or driving around Los Angeles in his nifty black sports car, he always appears trapped in something, including the obligatory press for his latest movie, which while no details are given about the nature of the film itself, the general sense is Johnny's not to pleased with it. What drives in the movie is a slow and thoughtful reveal of his daughter Cleo (played with disarming grace by Elle Fanning.) Cleo who is perhaps just as hermetically sealed as Johnny with her regimented ice staking lessons, ballet, and upcoming summer camp, is introduced signing her father's arm cast (his injury stems from doing his own movie stunts.)
Either way, in some levels, Somewhere might be her fullest achievement as filmmaker to date, and potentially her most experimental. The dialogue is even more minimal here than ever before, making each line reading stand out more, carefully and delicately written, by turns throwaway, witty and sad. The score is almost always integral and playing directly in the scene itself, without heavy orchestration, and a restraint to Coppola's past penchant for indie-pop songs-- the few here are courtesy of the French band Phoenix. In truth, it's easily her most naturalistic film; just as Johnny Marco doesn't have a method to his acting, it appears like Coppola is really going for the fly-in-the-wall experience here more so than before, and more times than not, it actually works. The small comedic beats are also effective-- a sequence at a press junket with Michelle Monaghan is my favorite; another scene where Cleo explains the plot of the Twilight books to her dad is nifty as well. Of course none of the this would work with the easy-going, natural rapport of Dorff and Fanning, who succeed in making characters that feel like they started way before the first shot and will end long after the last one.
I suppose the best quality of Somewhere, the one that makes it it's own, unique artful film, the one I'm sure Coppola intended to make (her director of photography, Harris Savidas deserves much praise as well) is that the simple, delicate finale is probably where most Hollywood hacks would start their movie. That she's a filmmaker more interested in the human emotional journey, but stopping right before the grand epiphany takes place in the central character makes us question, but hopeful that they will get there. And that graceful subtlety, along with the beatific imagery makes me hopeful in the spirit of American independent filmmaking. A-