Film Review: Somewhere

A movie star and his neglected daughter bond while partaking in the celeb-filled glamour of the Chateau Marmont.

Writer-director Sofia Coppola’s fourth film, Somewhere, is her most personal yet. Watching this story of the relationship between a film star and his previously neglected daughter, it’s easy to imagine that she has drawn from her experiences growing up the daughter of the acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola. Plus, the narrative reads like a neglected child’s wish fulfillment: a father made happy by finally noticing the daughter right in front of him.

The father-daughter relationship unfolds under the roof of the Chateau Marmont, a fashionable L.A. hotel that serves as a residence for stars and a location for photo shoots and celeb-spotting. Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) has a big action movie out and all the lifestyle trappings of a film star, but displays little joy in his surroundings. He orders strippers along with his room service and falls asleep before the show is over. Only when he watches his accomplished tween daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) figure skate to Gwen Stefani’s playful song “Cool” during his visitation day does his expression finally change. Shortly after, her mom disappears and the two are thrust together for a couple of weeks before she’s shipped off to summer camp.

Cleo becomes a part of Johnny’s schedule, and audiences follow along as Coppola takes us through her “tone poems,” as she describes her filming style. Using long takes and an entirely unrushed attitude, she creates magical scenes that convey the nuances of the duo’s relationship. The two play the videogame “Rock Band” together, share late-night burgers in the hotel lobby, and dive games in the pool. Coppola is able to imbue each of these everyday occurrences with emotion. Little touches, like Cleo making homemade eggs Benedict or Johnny taking Cleo to the craps table, develop their relationship, rather than contrivances. Coppola also employs documentary-style details, such as half-deflated “Get Well” balloons that reveal the passage of time and the slyly humorous placement of a bottle of Propecia, a hair-loss prevention drug, by the bathroom sink.

Music is used evocatively but with extreme restraint. The band Phoenix scores the film at just a few moments. When music does come into play, Coppola chooses perfectly: From massage music to stripper tunes, the songs bring momentum to the mood she has already established.

It’s hard to tell if Coppola is showing us introverted characters stunned by the wealth and fast pace surrounding them, or if their boredom is meant to imply a distaste for a life of luxury. Just as Wall Street was intended as commentary on the industry’s excesses but served as an aspirational tool for would-be financiers, Somewhere serves up a silver platter of celebrity and foreign awards shows, then tells us it is not quite the life you would have hoped for. Even if Johnny Marco leads an unhappy life, he’s still a movie star, and it’s rather enjoyable to bask in his privileged environment.

The listlessness and ennui of Coppola’s characters don’t mesh well with narrative fulfillment. She again aims for a denouement along the lines of Lost in Translation. Since audiences expect this sort of thing from Coppola, the film unfortunately feels like it’s going to end a few times before it actually does. When Coppola executes a long track-out from the characters as they lay by the pool, for example, it’s a bit of a red herring, as it is when she repeats the device from Lost in Translation involving an obscured line of dialogue. The actual ending seems as directionless as the characters she has created, and disappointingly generic.

But none of this really matters. Coppola’s touching portrait of a father and daughter is so charming, observant and specific, it defies a Hollywood ending.