In a lonely place

Dorff attempts depth in Coppola's tame Somewhere

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....but where?

cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM A lonely Ferrari zooms around a deserted track, over and over and over again. The opening scene of Sofia Coppola's latest, Somewhere, is such an obvious metaphor that at first I thought the director was joking. Actually, she's not: Somewhere is indeed a repetitious movie about a very boring, very ennui-laden individual, who happens to be a movie star with the marquee-ready name of Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff).

Now that you've been smacked over the head with metaphor, feel free to play spot the subtext: Johnny lives at Sunset Boulevard haunt the Chateau Marmont, legendary for its often-behaving-badly celebrity clientele. His life is an endless progression of blah (wake up, smoke, pop a Propecia, eyefuck and fuck random female admirers), broken up by job obligations — the tedium of a press conference here, the drudgery of a visit to the special-effects makeup studio there. Sigh.

Sorta like Bill Murray's actor character in Coppola's 2003 Lost in Translation, Johnny's fame is approximately equal to Dorff's. He's had a steady career for the past 20-something years, with occasional high points (1998's Blade, 2000's Cecil B. DeMented) and interesting parts in smaller films (1996's I Shot Andy Warhol), but nothing that elevated him to the A list. Mostly he's known for appearing in throwaway titles and dating the likes of Pamela Anderson. One might be forgiven for assuming his home life quite resembles the bad boy he plays in Britney Spears' "Everytime" video.

One might now suspect his home life resembles Somewhere. Can't you imagine onetime hottie Dorff, well past scruffy and nearing haggard, hiring twin pole dancers to writhe along with Foo Fighters songs as he gazes on, barely registering amusement or a pulse? Coppola's casting of Dorff is either totally inspired or totally lazy. We don't know enough about the real guy, who is playing an actor much like himself, to know if he's acting or not. Frankly, he's such a blank, shallow canvas it's hard to spend too much time wondering or caring.

Here's another instance of subtext: would any director not as privileged as Coppola dare to focus on a character whose massive wealth can't at all assuage his existential crisis? Money may not buy happiness, but it's kind of hard to feel sorry for a guy whose depression plays out as he floats the day away at a luxury hotel. The pissy, anonymous text messages Johnny receives throughout the film ("Why are you such a fucking asshole?") are either sent directly from his subconscious, or are a knowing nod to the feelings of the unwashed masses who spent all of Translation wishing evil on poor little rich girl Scarlett Johansson.

Fortunately, there is a bright spot in all this. Obviously Somewhere is Coppola's "I have kids now and therefore will preach about the magical joys of parenting" film. Ergo, mostly-absentee dad Johnny has a kid, Cleo, a tween sprite played by the charming Elle Fanning. Cleo's pretty blasé about the whole movie-star thing, but she is allowed a delighted squeal when she gets a peek at the swank-tastic hotel suite the pair is given during a promotional trip to Milan. She is the only meaningful thing in Johnny's life, and the only interesting thing that happens in this glacially-paced, bellybutton-obsessed movie.

But, you say, Somewhere won the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion (due to the film's Italy scenes and Coppola's Coppola-ness, perhaps?). Surely it must have some merit beyond Fanning and the middling, voyeuristic pleasures of seeing exactly what a movie star does on his free time? Divergent tones and motives aside, Somewhere isn't that far from Joaquin Phoenix's agonizing faux-doc I'm Still Here. Neither place is any place I'd like to visit again.

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