Universal // 2010 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // April 19th, 2011
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola.
Sofia Coppola became the darling of the indie world when her 2003 film Lost in Translation went on to rack up big box office and a boatload of awards. Her follow-up feature, Marie Antoinette, received no such reception (even the first audiences at Cannes rejected it), and Coppola went away for a few years. Her fourth film, Somewhere, barely received a theatrical release outside of New York and Los Angeles during the 2010 awards season, making this Blu-ray the first opportunity many will have to see the film. How will it stack up against Coppola's previous efforts?
Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff, Blade) is a successful movie star living at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. His life -- an endless series of meaningless encounters, parties, press junkets, and movie shoots -- is interrupted when his 11-year old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning, Super 8) comes for a surprise visit.
There is no catchy tagline splashed across the poster for Somewhere. There are hardly any quotable lines of dialogue in the movie with which to grab your attention. There is only the words "written and directed by Sofia Coppola." That tells you everything you need to know about the movie.
For some -- those who have written Coppola off as a filmmaker for making movies that are slow, pretentious, or (worst of all) boring -- Somewhere will offer nothing to change your mind. Best to stay away. If you have liked her other films, however (as I have), and appreciate her methodical, minimalist approach to storytelling (as I do), you'll want to give Somewhere a chance. It's an often flawed but just-as-often beautiful movie that may not always have something new to say, but regularly finds a mesmerizing way of saying it. A case could be made that Somewhere is the weakest of Coppola's four films. Of course, a case could also be made that her filmography consists of Lost in Translation and then everything else. I happen to like the "everything else," which makes me the audience for Somewhere -- another slow, deliberate movie that fits in well in her body of work.
One of the reasons that Somewhere likely got a bad rap in its initial run and never received a wide release is because it was viewed as more self-indulgent complaining from Hollywood stars -- another entry in the "it's so hard to be a famous celebrity" genre. Yes, the movie is self-indulgent. All of Coppola's films are, because her style requires that she indulges her own very specific instincts. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm also not entirely sure that what takes place in Somewhere constitutes complaining. Coppola isn't interested in tackling all of celebrity, she's simply looking at this guy and this celebrity. It's a portrait of loneliness and isolation that, ironically, is played out very publicly. At times, it's very effective, like in a shot of Dorff's character being fit for facial prosthetic: he just sits in a chair, buried under latex with nothing but the sound of his breathing being heard. Other times, such as in the movie's opening and closing shots (I won't say what they are so as to avoid spoilers, as much as a movie like Somewhere actually can be spoiled), Coppola's visual metaphors are overly obvious and heavy-handed. Some of the glimpses of the private life of this famous actor are intimate and revealing in a way in which we're not often privy. Some of it -- like the constant parade of beautiful women throwing themselves at Johnny Marco -- feels like leftovers from HBO's Entourage.
Ultimately, though, Somewhere transcends many of its clichéd elements by doing what each of Coppola's films have successfully done before: it casts a spell. There's a rhythm to Coppola's work (things tend to play out in real time) and a beauty to her compositions that has the ability to draw an audience in. If you're not immediately rejecting her films on the basis of boredom (and, to be fair, that's an understandable reaction), her movies are almost hypnotic -- they're more about tone and mood than about telling a conventional story. And though Somewhere doesn't have much new to say, it is another triumph of tone and mood. It's where Sofia Coppola really excels. The two central performances from Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning go a long way towards making the movie sweeter and warmer than it would otherwise have any right being. Dorff, in particular, is very good, largely because we rarely get to see him in this capacity; not only is he playing the leading man, not only is he not playing the villain, but he's actually likable and flawed and a whole bunch of things we've never seen Stephen Dorff be. It's said that Coppola wrote the part specifically for him, and it shows. She's able to take advantage of many of the actor's strengths in a way that it's apparent she's wished other directors had done in the past. Elle Fanning -- the younger half of the freakishly talented and mature-beyoned-their-years Fanning girls (her older sister is Dakota) -- has the tricky task of playing wise and grown up without turning into a "movie kid," the kind that act and talk in a way that no real kid does. She does a good job playing a kid who, thanks to largely absent parents, has had to fend for herself most of her life but who is also very convincingly a smart, cool 11-year old. There's a reality and a naturalism to her performance that we don't often get from actors her age, and her scenes with Dorff are the best in the movie. Their largely unspoken relationship is what makes the film work.
Somewhere arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal, with a 1080p HD transfer that's very faithful to the director's intentions: all of the movie embraces that bright, sun-soaked LA vibe, and the Blu-ray reproduces that well. Detail is reasonably strong throughout, and it doesn't appear that any major flaws or noise reduction have been applied; the film is allowed to stand on its own. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is mostly relegated to the front and center channels, despite the fact that there isn't a whole lot of dialogue. Once you've made it past the opening scene, in which Stephen Dorff's character drives his car around a circular track for what seems like an eternity (shades of Vincent Gallo's opening to The Brown Bunny), you've already heard the most immersive and show-offy trick the disc has to offer. Then again, this isn't the kind of movie that lends itself to showing off. It's too quiet, too minor. In that respect, the audio track does its job well.
Of course, as is so often the case with movies like Somewhere, there are hardly any bonus features included, at least none that are at all telling. Filmmakers like Coppola like to keep their work somewhat enigmatic and ethereal, and once you begin divulging the secrets those qualities vanish. All we get, then, is a short featurette called "Making Somewhere" that's very much in keeping with the spirit of the film; it doesn't reveal much about the process of making the movie, but it is kind of hypnotic in its elusive vagueness.
If Somewhere had been made by a French or Italian director in 1960, we would still be calling it a minor classic. While it's obvious those are the films and directors to whom Coppola is paying tribute, 2011 audiences require more immediacy and narrative momentum. I'm not sure many people will have the patience for Somewhere, but those who are willing to have Sofia Coppola's spell cast upon them will find a lot to like.
Not guilty, but not for everyone.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site