Sofia Coppola's study of L.A. dolce vita had its world premiere at this year's Venice Film Festival, where the Jury, headed by Coppola's former boyfriend Quentin Tarantino, awarded it the top-prize Golden Lion. Somewhere opens Dec. 22 in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and the Boston and Washington, D.C., areas. Below is Richard Corliss's review from Venice, which originally ran Sept. 5, 2010 on Time.com.
Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), the focal character in Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, belongs to a social class that might be called the homeless elite. A Hollywood star of undefined wattage, he doesn't have an ocean-front Malibu palace perched on an earthquake fault line. He stays at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Blvd. that funky-cool faux-French hotel where Garbo and Howard Hughes lived, and John Belushi and Helmut Newton died. All amenities available: twin blonds performing an elaborately sexy pole dance, right in Johnny's room, and an old waiter who'll sing Elvis's "Teddy Bear" on request. Johnny is restless; he knows his life needs direction, but in which direction? Well... somewhere. For now, though, he's a permanent transient.
Movie people are nomads, ever on location, forming alliances and liaisons that are as intense as they are evanescent. (Who are you I love you goodbye.) For these traveling salesmen of make-believe, a hotel is home an artificial, but for film folk natural, domestic domicile. The other members of the crew are the siblings of this post-nuclear family; the hotel-suite desk is the dining room; room service is the helpful spouse who's there only when needed.
And after the production is finished, movie people promote their wares at film festivals, where they stay in different, posher hotels. Here on the Lido, at the Venice Film Festival, they're often at the Excelsior, across the street from the Sala Grande, where the big movies are shown. Many stars used to stay at the century-old Grand Hotel des Bains, where Death in Venice and The English Patient were shot, but which closed this year to be turned into a luxury apartment complex. During festivals, movie critics are hotel critters too, pursuing the celebrities and their films mice after the big cheese.
Coppola, who often accompanied her father Francis as he made movies around the world, has been in more hotels than the Gideons. Her own work as writer-director often reflects her touring days with Dad. Lost in Translation (2003) booked Bill Murray, as a middle-age movie star, into a Tokyo hotel where he found a temporary cure for the spiritual blahs in Scarlett Johansson's smile. Of the 2006 Marie Antoinette, which imagined the budding French queen as a giggly teen, Coppola says, "Versailles was like a hotel, too." Now comes Somewhere, with Johnny at the Marmont and at hostelries in Las Vegas and Milan. Like the Murray character, he's a vaguely unhappy guy who gets thrown an emotional lifeline when his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) is sent to stay with him and, as Sofia frequently did, becomes her dad's hotel pal.
Somewhere could be described as a comedy-drama about self-discovery. Or the inside-movie story of a loner star. (The film is Entourage without the entourage.) That's its similarity to Lost in Translation, which, on a $4 million budget, took in a hefty $120 million at the worldwide box office and earned Coppola Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director (the first American woman in that category) and Screenplay. But viewers expecting the earlier movie's muted seductiveness charm on wry will be disappointed. Somewhere has a lot of good impulses, and a salutary faith in an audience's patience; but the film's tone, in its script, performances and visual style, is studiously uninflected. It's a document of people seen remotely, maybe from outer space.
Over the past decade, directors of movies and TV shows have gone nuts with shaky-cam technique. Bless Coppola for keeping her camera still, but she goes to the other extreme, of European minimalism. Like Johnny, the movie is an object in stasis. In the whole movie the camera moves only a few times, and then just to give a slighter wider or closer view of the same static image (like Johnny's head caked in makeup goo for a monster mark). Other directorial ideas smell of freshman film school: the opening shot, of Johnny driving in a wide circle six or eight times, matched by the closing shot, of Johnny leaving his car to walk straight down a highway. The film is sometimes too obvious, often too opaque.
The blasé-faire strategy extends to the main character. Coppola is to be cheered for not editorializing about Johnny; he's not a walking placard for Hollywood excess, not a desperate artist. He's really not much of anything. And he's not played by a star whose previous roles could give a hint to his internal makeup. In Lost in Translation, Murray's soft, saddish face, and of course his quarter-century playing louche funnymen, brought a comic attitude to the quiet, precisely observed proceedings. Dorff, 37, started acting on TV when he was Chloe's age, in an episode of The New Leave It to Beaver, and starred in Backbeat (as original bass player Stu Sutcliffe) and Blade. Handsome, but not distractingly so, he has an agreeably crinkled face that could reveal his character's emotions, if Johnny wanted to convey any. What Dorff lacks, no insult intended, is a clearly defined movie personality that would help clue the viewer to what's going on inside Johnny and, for that matter, inside the film.
Those secrets must be gleaned from the gifted young actress playing Johnny's daughter. The younger sister of Dakota Fanning, Elle gives Cleo a fresh, winning goodness. She likes rock 'n roll, cooking, figure skating and Twilight. She's something you don't find in most movies, especially movies about movie people a nice, normal kid and Coppola must have been tempted to make Cleo the central character. But the writer-director resists any plot device as stark as redemption. Johnny is own his own at the end of the film, and viewers will have to intuit that, for this Hollywood nomad, Cleo's heart is his true home. She is the somewhere he needs to get to.