Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Over the Rainbow

There's no doubt out there that Sofia Coppola is a talented filmmaker. 2003's Lost in Translation, her award-winning second feature film, is a modern classic and exhibited flawless performances by it's leads, Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson. It spoke of loneliness, alienation and general ennui, all while in a dramatically different land. It was a haunting film, and one that many artists could have just as easily screwed up than replicated. Coppola's fourth film, Somewhere, has just been released, and seems at first to examine those same themes, while trading the exotic land that is Tokyo for a seemingly much more emotionally remote place: Hollywood.

Scaring Elle with his Christian Slater impersonation
In Somewhere, Stephen Dorff plays... wait, wait a minute. STEPHEN DORFF? Seriously? Wow, congratulations, Stephen! I mean, no offense, but you've NEVER been in such a high-profile film before. I mean, we always KNEW you were an actor, but your films have never been ones that people, you know, watched. I mean, will anyone actually ADMIT to having seen Alone in the Dark, or Shadowboxer, or Space Truckers? That's what I thought. I mean, yeah, I reviewed XIII: The Conspiracy earlier this year, but that was pure chance, not a concerted effort on my part.

Interesting fact (lie): Fanning has in fact been invited to more award shows than Dorff
So anyway, back to what I was saying. In Somewhere, Stephen Dorff plays Hollywood bad boy Johnny Marko, a big-time movie star who lives his life in the lap of luxury, driving around an expensive Ferrari and constantly in the beds of numerous beautiful women. Women want him and men want to be him, and from the outside it would seem he's living every American's fantasy life. On the inside, however, he's extremely dissatisfied and is only truly happy when spending time with his daughter Chloe (Elle Fanning), with whom he has always had a strained relationship due to his work.

...and yet, I can actually more believe Dorff as the big movie star than Monaghan
It's clear from the start that the same themes that moved Lost in Translation forward are ever present in this new film. That loneliness, alienation and boredom is what moves Somewhere's plot as well, but having it take place in Hollywood, where Johnny would seemingly be home, instead of in a strange, faraway land is almost more tragic. It's also reasonable to assume that Coppola took bits from her relationship with her own father, director Francis Ford Coppola, as inspiration for the story. But what's lacking is Translation's ability to pace effectively. We have to sit through several scenes that express excess, boredom, dissatisfaction, loneliness, anxiety and back to excess through dialogue-less, drawn-out scenes in which very little actually happens. While it conveys the film's mood well, it does little to keep the film's story going, while in fact alienating the audience as a result. The story in fact almost seems like a side-note, often over-shadowed by excessive moodiness and feelings of despair.

That reminds me... I need to get the new Rock Band
The acting possibly could have been better, but the focus is almost entirely on the film's leads. Dorff is actually subtle and sensitive as Marko, seeking what little enjoyment he can purchase from his glamorous lifestyle while only truly enjoying the time he spends with his daughter. As strange as the idea may be to feel sorry for a Hollywood big shot, I can actually understand what his character is supposed to be seeking. Marko is stuck on this continual roller coaster of false glimmer and idolization. What he wants is something real, and he rediscovers it when he and Chloe are thrust together unexpectedly. Dorff does this while showing us a side to his persona that we've never seen before. While she's not her sister Dakota talent-wise, Elle Fanning is more than adequate as the attention-starved daughter, Chloe. You can see in her eyes that she loves her father despite all his faults, even while silently disappointed in his bed-hopping ways and his lack of having been around. Fanning is simply a cute kid when she needs to be, but when the time comes to step up, she admirably does the job. Other roles which could have been expanded upon and made more interesting were unfortunately left alone, including those of Laura Chaitti, Michelle Monaghan, Lala Sloatman and Chris Pontius as professional and personal acquaintances of Marko. In practice they are mere window dressing to the duo that is Dorff/Fanning, and while that duo may not have the charm of Murray/Johansson, they come close enough for the audience to be sympathetic towards them.

"So tell me, how are you recovering from your masterbatory injury?"
If Somewhere could survive solely on the performances of its lead actors, it would be the perfect film. Unfortunately, it takes more than great acting to make a top-notch production. I can even overlook some unresolved minor plot points, since this is the type of film in which everything doesn't need excessive tying up of loose threads. With far too many slow patches, a serious lack of secondary players, and an ending that, unlike the rest of the film, is completely devoid of grace and subtlety, I honestly can't say that Somewhere impressed me as a feature film more than it's trailer had. Even the soundtrack headlined by the amazing band Phoenix can't raise the title completely from the doldrums of mediocrity. It may seem unfair to endlessly compare Somewhere to Coppola's earlier masterpiece, but to be blunt she put so many of the elements in that made that possible in the first place. And this film, as good as it is in parts, is no Translation. See it for the strong performances, but not much else.

Somewhere will put your kids to sleep. There, that's the tag line

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