Films that test your patience can either be a colossal waste of time or something that sticks with you more than a more conventional story. Somewhere will divide audiences into those categories but it’s Sofia Coppola that knows how to make this movie fascinating.
Stephen Dorff plays Johnny Marco, a seemingly A-list Hollywood actor. He meanders though his days. He’s bored at home, bored with strippers, and bored at work. The only thing that changes up his days is the arrival of his daughter Cleo, played by Elle Fanning. He doesn’t have a Kramer vs Kramer epiphany where he finds a renewed sense of joy in his life. Instead he actually does something with his days.
This may just consist of playing Guitar Hero or going to the pool, but at least it is something. There are very few lines of dialog in this movie. Marco is a very introverted character, but that doesn’t make the movie dull. Coppola has complete control over this movie. It’s the work of professionals that make the mundane become enlightening.
This counteracts some of the shots that are too on-the-nose. The movie opens with Marco driving around in the circles, but Coppola frames it in an interesting (and definitely self-aware) fashion. The only thing she can’t save was Dorff’s “Oscar moment” where he breaks down for just a brief moment.
A quiet movie does not automatically mean a complex one. Just like one with rapid fire dialog doesn’t automatically match the intelligence of Aaron Sorkin. Coppola is not intending to reinvent the Hollywood perspective. Instead of striving for some deeper metaphor, the film wisely just keeps the focus on the emptiness on one man’s life.
This film would fail if Dorff and Fanning didn’t give strong performances. They’re comfortable with each other, but neither of them really know each other yet. Their curiosity about each other is never overplayed. Fanning has really grown as an actress from her Phoebe in Wonderland days. She really knows how to live in the scene. Also it turns out that Jackass’s Chris Pontius knows how to give a charming performance as well.
Despite the sadness and the distance, there is still warmth in this movie that is created by all of the elements working together. It’s a very fine movie that will sadly fight to maintain its audience.