Directed By: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning
You can have an immensely interesting story with colorful characters, but if the pace at which the tale is told is slow, it’s an instant killer and in the case of Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, it’s certainly deadly.
Stephen Dorff is Johnny Marco, an actor who enjoys driving his Ferrari, hanging out with a pair of twin exotic dancers and chain smoking. With zero concern for his image, Johnny rolls out of bed just as his car pulls up to take him to a press conference for his latest film where he takes photographs alongside his well-groomed co-star. He’s a little on the paranoid side, constantly checking his rearview mirror for tailgating paparazzi, but otherwise, just goes with the flow never thinking twice about his actions.
The only person that can tear him away from his playboy lifestyle is his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning). His ex-wife regularly sends Cleo his way, but when a surprise visit catches him off guard and ultimately turns into a longterm stay, Johnny is forced to rearrange his priorities and reconsider the person he’s become.
The first five minutes of the film consist of Johnny’s black Ferrari zipping around a dirt road. No, we don’t see Johnny and he doesn’t get into some horrific accident. In fact, nothing really happens at all and that’s basically the case through the entire film. We watch Johnny smoke, we watch him drink, we watch him watch his ladies dance, we watch him sleep. It’s as unexciting as it sounds.
Things pick up quite a bit when Fanning enters the picture. She’s a curious character, very much still a child yet clearly forced to mature at an accelerated rate. She’s often seen taking care of Johnny, cooking for him and assuring him the folks in the black SUV behind them aren’t out to snap his picture. However, she also has a number of more childlike tendencies particularly when it comes to his attention and dealing with trouble with her mother. Between the two, we wind up with a wildly intriguing character.
The problem is the portion sans Fanning. They’re boring. Yes, we walk around in Johnny’s shoes and learn quite a bit about our protagonist, but when that character’s life is so routine, such a long introduction becomes dull very quickly. Making the first half of the film even slower is the fact that Coppola opts to resort to a string of extremely long, stagnant shots. For instance, that entire opening scene is captured in just one position and the camera is still throughout. There is absolutely nothing stimulating about it and the same is true for the shots during which Johnny smokes, drinks and hangs out with his dancers.
However, there’s no denying that this technique really gets us into Johnny’s head. By the end of Somewhere, Johnny Marco isn’t just some character in a film, he’s a person that you honestly feel like you know. When Cleo steps into the picture and Johnny is forced to make decisions, the choices are wholly logical for we feel as though we are actually looking at the situation from Johnny’s perspective.
On the other hand, great character development is impossible to enjoy when the film as a whole is just so unbearably slow and boring. You’re eyelids are so heavy by the time that Johnny actually does something, your senses are too dull to fully appreciate it. At times Coppola’s minimalistic approach is admirable, particularly when it comes to her main character and attention to details, but the technique is taken way too far and winds up drowning the more interesting material in the piece.
It really is a shame the pacing is so abysmal because Coppola had fantastic characters and actors to work with. Both Dorff and Fanning are stellar in their roles, which are so multifaceted, they’d be endlessly interesting if they were divulged in a more stimulating fashion, however, that’s far from the case and the result is painfully boring.
By Perri Nemiroff