Fear & Loathing in L.A.
Sofia Coppolas Somewhere wings the City of Angels
by Rick Levin
SOMEWHERE: Written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Original music by Phoenix. 97 minutes. R.
In 2005 ã smack in the middle of a string of fiercely idiosyncratic and experimental films that also included Jerry, Paranoid Park and Elephant ã director Gus Van Sant released Last Days, a fictional account of the final hours in the life of Nirvana founder Kurt Cobain. Unspooling itself slowly like a visual stream of consciousness and containing next to no dialogue, the movie is a highly personalized imagining of the existential prison that, in the end, became Cobains death sentence. Last Days is not for everyone ã it is minimalist to the point of nothingness ã but for hard-core Van Sant fans, the films depiction of alienation and despair was a gorgeous, haunting elegy for a tragic pop icon. Strange to say, it might be Van Sants finest work.
Director Sofia Coppolas latest film, Somewhere, shares more than just a visual resemblance with Last Days (the movies director of photography, Harris Savides, also shot Van Sants Elephant). Coppola, who broke big in 2003 with Lost in Translation, has made a quietly staggering film about the wages of celebrity that, for all intents and purposes, could serve as the perfect foil and companion piece to Last Days. Like Van Sant, Coppola ã who also wrote Somewhere ã turns her intimate documentarians gaze on a foundering star lost in the cosmos, in this instance an actor named, yes, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff). But unlike Last Days, which was set in a decaying mansion in the middle of the woods, Somewheres somewhere is Los Angeles, that legendary and much-maligned mecca of hedonistic folly, falsity, fakery and fuckery.
Holed up at Hollywoods infamous Chateau Marmont during a publicity blitz for his latest thriller (tag line: "How far would you go?”), Marco gives the impression of an untidy, passive, nearly catatonic zombie who, when not clumsily pimping his movie, sits around staring, smoking, drinking, popping pills, fucking every woman who throws herself at him and then nodding off during the private services of sexy twin dancers (who carry their own collapsible poles into his hotel room). At one point, Marco actually falls asleep with his head between a womans eagerly spread legs. And then, when his ex bolts town, Marcos smart, sweet 11-year-old daughter shows up on his doorstep, needing her dad. Nothing too groundbreaking, right? Weve seen this got-it-all celebrity despair shtick a thousand times, from Fellinis La Dolce Vita and Sunset Blvd. to Leaving Las Vegas and Altmans The Player. Somehow, though, Coppola succeeds in imbuing the same-old same-old with an insiders wisdom that is fresh and often fascinating ã vivid without being vulgar, and insightful without being too indulgent. In fact, for all its prying into the fabled dark side of Hollyweird, Somewhere is marked by an odd, offbeat empathy for its addled anti-hero.
As a man adrift in the celluloid cosmos, Dorff plays Marco as a sort of celebrity everyman ã a handsome, affable, go-along dude to whom life simply happens. Although lost and troubled, Marco is neither overly egotistical nor particularly asshole-ish, and most of his crimes are venal and victimless. Basically, hes a man-child in a big, bright toy store where everything is free and, in the end, boring as hell. Marco is only able to be himself, and therefore feel content and comfortable if not quite happy, when his daughter Cleo (the wonderful Elle Fanning) is nearby. As father and daughter, they work; hes immature, shes precocious, and the two of them are awkwardly charming and forgiving in each others company. They play Guitar Hero. He takes her to Italy on a press junket. She cooks eggs Benedict for him and his best friend (Chris Pontius). They laugh a lot. Its hardly ideal, but ã contrary to genre expectations, and despite Marcos debauched ways ã their relationship is fairly normal, moderately functional and quite touching to behold.
Somewhere opens Friday, Feb. 18, at the Bijou.