The opening scene of Somewhere is painful to watch.
Camera in a small hotel room in a medium-wide lock-off as twin strippers dressed as candy stripers do a pole dance routine. The scene goes on forever – their routine timed to a song, their moves half-hearted, their sexuality absent. So boring it is almost assaultive, Jonny Marco takes the easy way out; he simply falls asleep.
Welcome to LA via Sofia Coppola, Mistress of Our Discontent. As she did in the fantastic Lost in Translation, and the possibly too much maligned Marie Antoinette, Coppola shows us the result of decades of material isolationism – complete personal disconnect. Celebrity is the topic, but not the issue – Johnny could literally be anybody. His jeans, work boots and faded t-shirts, along with his ever-present beer make him an American everyman who happens to live in a hotel and drive a natty sports car. Still, Jonny doesn’t seem to know he is prosperous. Presumably somebody somewhere pays his hotel bills and child support, but generally he just asks for things and they appear.
He doesn’t ask for his daughter, but she appears as everything else does, in some bubble of time and space. After taking her to skating practise, he seems impressed. He asks how long she has been doing it and she replies three years. Somehow, he failed to notice.
Required to go to Italy by yet another phone call telling him where to go and what to do, Marco has to take Cleo. The Italian sequence plays like a parallel universe La Dolce Vita. Marco’s life is not sweet but brittle; it is grandiose and weird and takes place around you, but doesn’t involve you. The only women are over-accessorized and most are trying to sleep with you for bragging rights. The ones who have slept with you already are mad at you and the only way to shut them up is to sleep with them again, which angers your daughter, but her you can appease.
|Stephen Dorff/Elle Fanning|
Any actual sex is off-screen. Onscreen, Marco is a sexual narcopleptic – falling asleep whenever he’s supposed to be stimulated. This is reality porn – a slice of life without a cum shot. He goes through life as a sleepwalker, doing what he is told, no matter how boring or unpleasant. He shrugs off awards, press junkets, and parties he is having completely orchestrated by others with equanimity. He does not seem to know what to do with himself at all when someone is not giving him the very next task. Only Cleo’s presence seems to thaw him to life, but perhaps too little too late.
The film’s only almost a-ha moment comes when Marco drives Cleo to summer camp. Her mother has now taken indefinite leave of LA and parenting. Elle Fanning’s stoic Cleo breaks down in tears as they drive into the desert, suddenly becoming the child she is, wondering what she will be coming back to when camp is over. As Marco says goodbye to her as he stands under the already whirling helicopter, he has a moment where he almost decides to become a man and her father, yet somehow, lets it fall short. She has not heard; he makes no effort to comfort her or even himself.
The film’s ending seems to leave us near where we started. Marco has come to some level of self-awareness, but we’ve no idea if he’ll use this to help himself or destruct completely. His blubbering phone call to what is most likely an ex is a typical feature of Los Angeles modern life. She has no time for him and his self-indulgence, as he probably had no time for her needs when she presented them.
With it’s aridity and heat, LA does not eviscerate, it evaporates the lives of its humans. Marco is just another patch of desert sand hoping to hide a gusher underneath. Coppola unfolds this slowly, carefully, sleekly and elegantly, delivering a movie dripping with the sorrow of loneliness, and ultimately more haunting than any genre film you may take in over the Halloween weekend.