BORED TO DEATH
Review by Joel Frost
Sofia Coppola has, thus far in her young career as a film-maker, mostly avoided the pitfalls of being a descendent of Hollywood royalty. Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter has largely seemed unencumbered by the expectations that her name carries with it. Such expectations (which clearly do inform her thematic inclinations) are the proverbial double-edged sword: At her best, when creating a masterpiece like “Lost In Translation”, she’s imagined and anointed as a rightful heir. At her worst, she runs the risk of being called a precocious talent who rests on the laurels of what comes easy to her, the thing which hundreds if not thousands of film-makers would kill for; a built-in audience. A director in Sofia Coppola’s position has the luxury of curiosity. Her name alone puts butts in the seats. Add to that cache that she’s shown the ability to make at least one great film, and she seems to have it as easy as any young, hot star in Hollywood.
It’s the life of one such type of star, the breezy and lusted-after Johnny Marco, that Ms. Coppola examines in her new film, “Somewhere”. Marco is, as the opening shot clumsily offers, spinning around in expensive circles. What looks like it could be fun to most people is, it seems, largely boring to this movie star. The constantly available women, the cars and money; none of these perks of stardom seem to truly fulfill the seemingly vapid Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff, who adds true authenticity to the vapidity). He’s clearly lonely and bored. Frankly, that’s clear after about five minutes of the film, yet “Somewhere” adds at least another ten minutes of not particularly interesting reiteration to this obvious situation. It’s a trick to visually explain mundanity without actually creating that feeling in an audience, and Ms. Coppola has performed that trick before effectively. “Lost In Translation” presented a similar set-up, with a bored actor looking for some unique distraction. In fact, “Lost In Translation” provides so many parallels and touchstones for comparison to “Somewhere” that it’s hard to imagine discussing this new film without comparing it to the former. The central reason, unfortunately, is that “Somewhere” is so shockingly inferior while being practically the same movie. It’s as if Sofia Coppola dug up an early draft of “Lost In Translation”, tweaked a couple of things (younger lead character, different setting, daughter instead of love interest), and tried to dress it up as a new study of the same themes. While it is that in some ways, it’s a dull, shallow and ineffectual exercise. Since “Somewhere” comes from the same film-maker that gave us a much more deftly crafted film about the same stuff, it’s quite clear that what “Somewhere” represents is not only a dull movie, but in fact a true disappointment.
The greatest constructed divide between the two films is the substitution of a daughter for the main character to deal with. At face value, that’s an interesting choice. In “Lost In Translation”, Scarlett Johansson’s unavoidable sexuality was (while downplayed), of course, an important element of the dynamic between her character and Bill Murray’s character. She disarmed the older man and while their relationship was chaste, it could not have been as interesting without the burbling undercurrent of sexual tension. Removing that tension and supplanting it with the kind of disarming possibilities that come with facing one’s tween-to-adolescent daughter while dealing with a similar crisis of boredom doesn’t necessarily seem like a terrible idea. The right actors, the right director, and the right script can all conspire to make a dynamic like that rather interesting, one would suspect. Well, these are not particularly good actors and this is not a particularly good script. Sofia Coppola, also, just isn’t herself.
Elle Fanning as Cleo, the daughter in question, offers no relief from the drudgery of life in “Somewhere”. It seems almost unfair to fault the poor girl, though; she does her level best. There are hints at measurable talent in her performance but if we’re betting on Fannings, I’m letting it ride on Dakota for the time being.
Stephen Dorff is actually well cast as Johnny Marco. He manages to come off as fairly helpless in an absurd world that he has very little control over. One gets the sense, though, that this has as much to do with the actor’s blandness as it does the relative blandness of the predicament this character is in during the film. Dorff has been lingering around Hollywood for some time, and by now it would seem he’d have been able to find the right film to exhibit and celebrate the depth of his talent. Perhaps he has here; if so, it’s a drab exhibition. Again, the script offers him little support, but let’s just say he’s no Bill Murray.
Sofia Coppola is clearly interested in examining purgatorial pauses. So much so that she saw no potential ultimate issue with covering very similar ground to her best film to date. She’s shown ability and had some success competing with and performing for (as many of her female characters tend to do) the father-figure in her life. At her best, she’s much more than just Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter. At her worst, she can’t even compete with herself. It seemed in the past that she had earned the respect of being judged purely as a unique artist, but “Somewhere” puts her, the film’s characters, and audiences back in an uncertain place. As her lead in “Somewhere” does, the eventual inclination is to run away from that place. Let’s hope, down the road, she follows her own example.
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Release Date: December 22, 2010
Run Time: 97 Minutes
Distributor: American Zoetrope