With some judicious editing, Somewhere would make a solid first act to an infinitely better film. It has pair of interesting characters in Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) and his eleven-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning). It sets up a fairly interesting conflict in the form of their relative estrangement (he’s a sometime Dad, full-time movie star who doesn’t know enough about her to know she’s been figure skating for the past three years) and an interesting premise in the form of bringing together these two characters — one who coasts through a life run entirely by other people, another who is completely self-sufficient. Unfortunately, the film is pretty much killed by writer/director Sofia Coppola’s frustrating unwillingness to allow audiences to derive any pleasure from her work.

What we have here is the setup for I’ll Do Anything 2: But I Won’t Do That, but Coppola wants to make a brooding, neo-realistic drama. It’s full of looooong takes of characters staring into space, driving, playing Rock Band, and otherwise occupying themselves in a world without much dramatic conflict. Fully the first half of this film revolves around hammering home the idea that Johnny does nothing for himself. It’s not quite as unsubtle as, say, Two Weeks’ Notice, but it’s also not the deep exploration of a fragile psyche it seems to want to be. This is the sort of movie that opens with Johnny driving his Ferrari around a dirt test track, in endless circles (get it?) and ends with Johnny pulling his Ferrari over to the side of the road and walking slowly along a deserted highway (GET IT?!).

Johnny has an apparent nightly ritual of hiring blonde, tanned, toned, twin strippers (with portable poles) to dance for him until he either falls asleep or tells them to stop so they can sleep with him. In fact, everywhere he goes, there’s either a beautiful woman who knows him from a one-night stand, or a beautiful woman hurling herself at him in order to have a one-night stand of her own.

When he’s not staring at strippers, he’s staring into space, usually drinking a beer or watching TV. Sometimes, his longtime best friend (now apparently the only member of his sad entourage) throws a party, which makes finding a one-night stand easier. Sometimes, his handlers call to tell him he needs to be at a certain place at a certain time for a certain reason. In the film’s most on-the-nose moment, a junket interviewer asks, “Who is Johnny Marco?” His sincerity at such a banal question is supposed to be ironic, but Johnny’s befuddled, “Um…” is supposed to be profound.

Finally, something happens. His ex-wife, an anonymous voice on the phone, announces she’s leaving for an undisclosed location for an unknown period of time. Johnny needs to take care of Cleo until she decides to come back and resume being a mother. Her presence shakes up Johnny’s routine, but not necessarily in a bad way considering what his routine is.

The rest of the film isn’t much more than the two of them hanging out together, first in Italy (where Johnny appears on some sort of television awards show reminiscent of a ’60s fever dream) and then back in Los Angeles. Johnny’s life occasionally intrudes on his ability to hang out with Cleo, but more than anything it makes him slowly realize that he’d rather have the slower paced life of a loving father than the hard-drinking, Ferrari-driving, one-night-standing life of a movie star. Coppola takes great care to make the movie-star life as unglamorous as possible, centering the bulk of the film’s “action” in a bland hotel suite at Los Angeles’s famed Chateau Marmont. She conveniently ignores the millions of dollars Johnny has undoubtedly earned to overcompensate for the minor inconvenience of spending a day hounded by foreign reporters or making special-effects molds of his face, but I’m willing to look past that because the portrayal reflects Johnny’s unhappy outlook.

There’s really not much to the film. The ideas expressed would work just as well to set up a more mainstream film, but slowing down the action, lingering on needless and often tedious details, and removing the second and third acts don’t necessarily make it Art with a capital A.

The major saving grace (the only thing netting this film two stars instead of one) are its stars. Dorff does such a great job here, it saddens me that his star never rose higher than it did. For a film that spends the majority of its runtime in close-up on his silent face, reading his expressions, an actor with the ability to subtly convey numerous emotions is required. Honestly, Dorff wouldn’t be the first actor who springs to mind, but he does a great job here. Fanning does similarly good work as the self-sufficient, parentalized daughter. She doesn’t play Cleo as a miniature adult (something her older sister, Dakota, was frequently accused of doing) but as a child who simply lives life the way she has to. She doesn’t seem to know it’s abnormal, and she doesn’t know she’s more of an adult than either of her parents. She just thinks she’s a kid. Who knows how to make eggs benedict.

Because of the performances, characters, and the barebone ideas in Somewhere, I wish it had been better. It didn’t have to transform into something mainstream, but all the unnecessary lingering and the lack of dramatic thrust undermines everything the film has going for it. It feels like an okay script (that could use a lot of polish) ended up in the hands of the wrong director, which is ironic considering the film’s writer and director are one in the same.

D. B. Bates is a freelance script reader and writer.

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