*some minor spoiler alerts-- not a suspense film but if you want to see it maybe wait to read this*
you will have noted from previous posts that the quality of north american cinema that we are exporting to south america is the true bottom of the barrel. my present day favoritism of television over movies generally is due to the fact that i find the quality of movies overall to be less than it was 10 years ago and television overall to be higher (thank you to buffy and the x-files!). there is a lot of incredible acting and storytelling on television now. but i digress.
due to this vortex of celluloid pain (including movies with titles so interchangeable i actually don't know which if any of offerings such as "unstoppable" vs. "unthinkable" etc etc are good), we decided on "somewhere" as the best choice as we had both enjoyed "lost in translation" a good deal (and in fact are experiencing our own version of same at the present moment). sofia coppola's new film is quite similar to "lost in translation," focusing on a movie star who is adrift in a sea of his own ultimate meaninglessness despite having many sought after perks of life (e.g., financial solvency, scruffy beauty, fame, easy access to massage therapy). this movie star (called johnny marco and played by stephen dorff) is lolling about in the chateau marmont rather than a hotel in tokyo, so his fame seems more relevant than that of bill murray's washed up character in "lost." however, if the point that once one is famous, one's own identiy/personality/soul is washed away and the assumptions/commodifications of the global populace are projected onto the tabula rasa thus revealed is to be believed, than the characters really are close cousins, if not brothers. the dorff version even takes a trip to italy where the ludicrous components of italian pop culture are pumped for our amusement, much as the quirks of japanese media were in "lost."
this is all to say that "somewhere" is not a particularly original or distinct offering from coppola, who treads familiar ground (down to the soundtrack of an au courant french band, as she did in "virgin suicides"). taken as a whole i found the film lacking across a couple levels:
1) character development and relationships are wan. the ostensible driving action of the story is that Marco's 11-year-old daughter comes to live with him for a few weeks in the chateau. certain glaring aspects of his listless existence are therefore thrown into bas-relief, but rather than truly exploring this delicate interaction, we are shown many scenes of elle fanning cooking pasta and making elaborate breakfast foods that i at age 34 am still not capable of executing to illustrate her preternatural maturity (the result of having self-oriented parentals and of course only thinly obscuring her elfin fragility). coppola relies on silent moments with emotive music playing to convey the feelings of the characters, and she is not quite at the level of scorsese or cameron crowe. it feels flat rather than buoyant.
2) she takes too long to convey the absurd. in an effort to portray the existential ennui of the character, she includes a plethora of dreamlike, anesthetized sequences designed to capture the soul crushing vacuousness of los angeles and the film industry when taken to its full levels of disillusionment. e.g.: marco has twin pole dancers who come to his room while he watches them looking bored and depressed. and it is effectively absurdist-- the dancers are über-blond, tan, young, and seem absolutely guileless rather than sexually calculated; they are physically beautiful, but their dancing is awkward and painful. painful to the extreme-- the overriding sound you hear during this sequence is the harsh squeaking of their skin rubbing on the poles. ouch. this would be a brilliant sequence-- except! coppola literally takes up 5 minutes of screen time on these dancers. squeak. squeak. squeak. the point is to convey the existential ennui of the character, not to induce existential ennui in the audience. and then-- unbelievably-- she brings these squeakers back! for another 5 minutes! i started banging my head against the theater wall to make sure my nerve endings were still working. there are a couple different examples of this.
all this being said, there are a few moments of true brilliance in the film. a scene where marco goes to an f/x shop to be fitted for a mask of his head is stunning. the extra moments she spends on his head, floating disembodied and cut off from any sensorial input, are more emotionally devastating than the first 30 minutes of the film combined. we also loved a shot where he is taking publicity photos and the camera pulls back to show he's standing on a box to accentuate his height. the little pin to the balloon here was terrific.
and stephen dorff is really good. he commits in the big breakdown scene and my favorite subtle moment from him was when he brings back the pole girls and is really trying to look enthusiastic. it was exciting to see him back on screen in something at least directionally artistic. we both liked him, and j and i often have different takes on performances. j liked fanning-- i thought she fit the floaty mood of the film well, but outside of one scene at the end where she feels like a person, i thought she was treated too much like a pretty doll. i *would* however like to own many of the stripey cotton sundresses she sports in the film.
coppola does, also, beautifully capture the dreamlike qualities of LA-- alone in his spaceship, marco drives and drives and drives. and the chateau marmont pool is the clearest, brightest, azul-est jewel glittering in that glittery city.
overall review is 2 alfajores. but i still might buy the soundtrack. and move to LA.