Ersatz Antonioni is a terrible thing, and that’s what Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” is. A portrait of an angst-ridden actor who only briefly perks up during a visit from his teen daughter, it’s a cruelly tedious picture. The protagonist may be bored with his life, but not as much as we are by the time the film slogs to a halt.
We first see B-movie star Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), he’s engaged in speeding his car around a track, spinning it in what seem like endless circles. It’s a metaphor for the aimlessness of his life, you see? Johnny lives in the Chateau, an old Los Angeles hotel favored, it seems, by the Hollywood elite, where he spends his time partying (in one drunken moment he falls down a flight of stairs and injures an arm) and hosting a couple of pole dancers (Kristina and Karissa Shannon) to keep him company (and do their routines) as he falls off to sleep. (Their performances may be the best thing in the movie—especially if you’re a dirty old man.)
Marco’s ennui-filled existence is altered by the arrival of his teen daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning), who’s deposited with him his ex for a brief stay before she’s off to camp. He spends time with her, though his self-absorption diverts his attention at every turn, and they don’t do much besides playing video games with a shaggy guy (Chris Pontius) who I think is Johnny’s brother (having their car conk out while they’re tooling around the city is another big event). Eventually Marco takes her to Rome with him for his new movie’s premiere, where again he’s more involved with business than with her. (There is, however, some modestly amusing stuff about the absurdity of junkets.) After returning to the States he deposits her at camp before abandoning his car along a remote road. Whether this is intended to suggest a change of life or an empty gas tank isn’t completely clear—or a matter of much interest, frankly.
Perhaps “Somewhere” is a means of Ms. Coppola working out issues from her own youth, in which case one can only hope it will serve a useful purpose for her. For the rest of us, though, it’s one of those boring existential exercises that offer minimal insight into the human condition. It’s as vacuous as its protagonist’s life is portrayed as being.
Dorff, it must be admitted, plays amusingly on his own image as the dissipated star, and Fanning has sparkle and charm as his daughter, which should certainly please the director if she’s Coppola’s surrogate. This is basically a two-character piece in which the supporting players have little more than cameos, but there are some nice digressions, as when an elderly employee at the Chateau, where Johnny lives, serenades him and his daughter one evening.
Antonioni’s films divided people, and Coppola’s—photographed without distinction by Harris Savides and scrappily edited by Sarah Flack—will do likewise. The view from this quarter is that it’s a shallow, uninteresting piece with a pretense of profundity. The one thing it has going for it is its brevity—it runs only 96 minutes. It just feels longer than “L’Avventura”—or “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” for that matter.
As for Coppola, with this film she seems to be spinning her wheels herself. She handled the same themes far more skillfully in “Lost in Translation,” and it’s time that she moved on.