¨I need you to take Cleo.¨
Sofia Coppola won the Golden Lion prize in the Venice Film Festival for Best Picture with Somewhere, a very small and simple movie about an actor struggling to find meaning in life. Francis Ford Coppola`s daughter has grown up in the industry and therefore knows quite a bit about some of the hardships these actors go through while at the same time trying to give everyone the impression that they live happy and successful lives. I don’t know if the film is actually based on any specific real life actor, but I´m pretty sure Sofia wrote the screenplay thinking about several of these actors she`s had the chance to grow alongside with. Coppola directed a very similar movie a few years back, Lost in Translation, featuring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. I really enjoyed that movie and thought she did a terrific job with the direction of that film, but in Somewhere I just felt that she tried too hard to repeat the success by telling us a very similar story with pretty much a same kind of relationship between the protagonists. I know this is an entirely different story, but I couldn’t help but think this was just another failed sequel which lacked some originality. Lost in Translation made me fall in love with Tokyo and its characters, but Somewhere made me want to stay away from Los Angeles and the movie industry. The only character I actually liked in this film was Cleo, the eleven year old daughter, but she didn’t have enough screen time to save the movie. Coppola tried repeating the same formula that gave her success in the past (I’m OK with that), but it just never truly works in this film as it failed to connect with me. It also lacked some of the comedy that Bill Murray was able to portray in the previous film.
The movie opens with a very long scene of a black Ferrari driving around in circles. We later see the man behind the wheels: Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a Hollywood actor who has recently finished his latest film and is promoting it. He has to do interviews, travel, and take photo sessions to help promote the movie. While he is doing all this he is staying at the Chateau Marmont, a well known Hollywood retreat hotel in Los Angeles. His life is really dull and he doesn’t find any fulfillment spending most of his time sleeping with girls, or getting exotic dancers to pole dance for him in his hotel room. His life is meaningless and he seems lost. The only meaningful relationship he has is with his long time friend Sammy (Chris Pontius) who comes to visit him often, and his eleven year old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) who only spends a few days with him every month. Despite spending very little time with her father, Cleo has a good relationship with him and looks up to him like any girl her age would. She is a bright little girl who loves to ice skate and cook for her dad. Johnny`s life will change when Cleo`s mom leaves her daughter for an uncertain number of days. Johnny begins to find some meaning while acquiring some parenting skills and spending more time with her daughter (although she seems more mature than him at times). They get to travel together to one of his film premieres in Italy and their relationship begins to grow.
There is not actually a lot of story put into this film, the dialogue is minimal because Johnny`s life isn`t actually rich in relationships or communication. He spends most his time having meaningless relationships with girls, going to parties, and promoting his latest movie. The true heart of the film is Cleo, who is sweet and innocent. Sofia does a good job at contrasting that sweet innocence during the scene where she is ice skating, in contrast to the scene where the two playboy girls are poll dancing for Johnny. He is a spectator for both these dances, but we know which one of these is really meaningful for him. Ironically he has spent more time with the pole dancers than with his daughter because apparently this was his first time seeing her ice skate (and she has been doing it for years). Sofia gives us several of these long shots and we get the point she is trying to get across, but I just think she emphasizes too much on Johnny’s depression and meaningless life instead of focusing on the brightness his daughter brings to his life. The scenes with Cleo should be the heart of the movie, but they are just too few because Sofia continues on focusing on his depression. It is like the opening scene of the movie where we see the car going in circles, she does the same thing with Johnny`s character making him go in circles over and over again when the audience actually got the point in the first ten minutes of the film. I really found this movie dull like Johnny`s life and thought it could have been so much better if Cleo had a more central role. The movie is minimalistic but several of the scenes just felt forced for me and I thought Coppola was just being too pretentious at times.