Those who say that “Somewhere” is too slow and goes nowhere are probably missing the point. Sofia Coppola — the filmmaker behind this droll Hollywood fairy tale — loves the static state: She’s a rare American woman who gives the impression of never having rushed anywhere her entire life. Behind her stretches a metaphoric Tuscan countryside paved over with a fashion runway (showing Marc Jacobs — Coppola’s preferred brand) and dotted with cafes where people linger endlessly over drinks under shady awnings. Take the young wife (played by a languid Scarlett Johansson) in Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” — she spent almost a whole week at the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku cocooned in her moods, doing absolutely nothing but being herself.
In “Somewhere,” Coppola takes that pace several steps further (or back, as it may be) to set the speed dial somewhere between “catatonic” and “totally unhurried.” During the first 20 minutes of this 100 minute movie, there’s no dialogue. In the opening sequence, there’s not even a human being — just a mind-numbing sequence of a black Ferrari roaring aimlessly around a desert track for what feels like eternity.
When we are finally introduced to protagonist Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), an A-list Hollywood action star whose distinguishing features are a deceptively short stature and a terribly meaningless existence, the significance of the Ferrari hits home. Johnny is capable of much silliness to keep a monstrous boredom from eating at his life, and that includes such escapades as driving a race car in the middle of nowhere, or summoning two pole dancers (twins) into his hotel room only to fall asleep during the performance.
Coppola’s observations of the downside of Hollywood celeb-dom have always been intriguing, if a little cliched — “Marie Antoinette,” for example, could just have been about child stars grown into an adulthood defined by macaroons, sex and Prada, and wallowing in sheer boredom. Coppola herself was in front of the camera when she was just days old (playing Michael Corleone’s baby in her dad’s “The Godfather: Part II”) and grew up fully immersed in the shadow of the Coppola cinema empire. The only girl among her siblings, Coppola often makes films that read like letters to Daddy; what was “Lost in Translation” if not a private te^te-a-te^te between a girl and a fantasy father figure?
In this sense, “Somewhere” is right on the money: Johnny is forced to spend time with his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), after his ex-wife unceremoniously dumps her at his resident hotel in Los Angeles. It’s typical of Coppola’s Euro sensitivities to opt for the Chateau Marmont instead of some other glitzy venue: The Marmont has traditionally been the digs of celebrities nursing their ennui, and it’s the perfect setting for Johnny.
What Cleo thinks of her father, who spends most of his time in a boozy haze of withdrawal from the world, is another matter. But by way of equipping Cleo to deal with her father, Coppola has endowed her with the best qualities of prepubescent womanhood: a calm worldliness, an intuitive wisdom and a personality that blends nasty and sublime. It’s no wonder that Johnny steals glances at her in wonder, sometimes in frustration, other times in sheer gratitude.
Unlike, say, French cinema, which loves to depict the vague and fragile state of the Lolita, Hollywood has traditionally gone for the strong-willed woman of action, or the troubled girl teen with unearthed motivation. But in “Somewhere,” Coppola’s portrayal of girlhood is nothing more or less than a moment of suspension, or a flower that’s fallen to the ground and is about to be (but has not yet been) trampled by the high heel of someone at a rich and raucous party.