Without Lost in Translation, most of the world would only vaguely recognize Sofia Coppola as Francis Ford’s daughter and maybe the woman whose performance in Godfather III single-handedly pulled the film down a notch. Marie Antoinette did little to endorse the directorial talent seen in Lost, suggesting that Coppola’s first major success was the result of stellar performances from Bill Murray, and to a lesser extent, a then-unknown Scarlett Johansson. Unfortunately, Copolla’s newest film, Somewhere, is flawed at the most basic level—writing—and even the most artsy extra-long shots and inspired Indie music can’t save it. The dialogue is never too colloquial or melodramatic, the scenes never epic or shocking—normally this film’s subtlety would be lauded. Yet it wants so hard to be a redemption story—is so focused on telling only the parts of its character’s transformation—that it feels too shoehorned and inevitable. From the protagonist’s first lust-less voyeuristic encounter with hired striptease enthusiasts Cindy and Blonde #2, Somewhere can only become a film about a man disappointed with his life, and the girl who “shows him the way”.
Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a hard-living action-movie star whose days are spent mindlessly speeding his Mustang around the California desert and nights partying and womanizing. Though he occasionally receives visits from his adorable eleven-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), most of his time is divided between playing Guitar Hero with roommate Sammy (Chris Pontius) and hiring hookers for private pole-dancing sessions in his bedroom. After Johnny’s ex-wife drops Cleo off at his apartment unannounced, hoping to go on vacation and have her daughter delivered to camp a week later, things begin to change. Johnny begins questioning his lifestyle as he must defend Cleo from it, kicking random women out of his bed and ignoring unsolicited advances in exotic Italian hotel lobbies. Through a montage of pool-swimming, travel, gambling in Vegas, and long meals spent together not entirely unlike the trailer (scored to the actual song behind the trailer) the two come to love one another, compelling Johnny to give up his rock-and-roll antics after a heartfelt goodbye outside camp.
Without giving much away, the ending scene is literally the protagonist “walking away from it all” in the most heavy-handed way possible. For a film so concerned with “showing” rather than “telling”—one where the father and daughter never once actually say “I love you” to one another—Somewhere sure feels like getting clubbed over the head. Everything is paradoxically artistic yet cheap—hits every expected redemption-story beat without bringing anything new to the table; the montage which makes up the entirety of the trailer exemplifies all that is wrong with this film—rather than building a substantial relationship between father and daughter, Coppola opts for the easy way out, manufacturing sentiment with by-the-numbers moves. I wanted to love this movie—Dorff and Fanning deliver excellent performances, the way the camera hangs on characters for just a little too long creates a brooding effect that gets under your skin, and the soundtrack is scored almost entirely by Phoenix, one of my favorite bands on the current Indie-rock scene. But in light of the script’s narrow focus and lack of originality, the cinematography and music seem only to enhance the manufactured feel of the film. What you’re left with is a slow, whimsical ride towards Johnny’s redemption that’s neither spectacular or awful—is rather a nice break from the high drama of our personal lives and everyday cinema that’s entirely, predictably on-rails.