MOVIES THAT DON’T SUCK: Sit back and relax with Sofia Coppola’s ‘Somewhere’

Looking back on my previous couple of entries, I’ve noticed that my list of recommended films is leaning quite heavily towards the ultra-violent. In light of that realization and the fact that not every human being has the same gusto for human-on-human violence that I do, I thought I’d write about something less exciting.

If you’re looking for films without much excitement in them, your best bet would be a  “mumblecore” film, which is basically a fancy name for what the public calls “a quiet movie.”

And few films are quieter than Sofia Coppola’s 2010 film “Somewhere.”

See? Even the name is calmingly vague.

Of course, it’s not literally a quiet film. There’s plenty of sound to go around, but a core characteristic of the genre is that there isn’t constant plot progression or character development. You’re just seeing people going about their lives onscreen until there are one or two important scenes that characterize what the movie is about.

But I digress.

“Somewhere” stars Stephen Dorff as Johnny Marco, an A-list movie star who spends all of his non-working hours at the Chateau Mormont hotel in L.A., getting drunk alone (or with “friends”) and ordering in-room strippers.

His social circle mainly includes various hangers-on and a retinue of mistresses, both of which come easily when one has earned the title of “movie star.”

It’s not all bad for Johnny, though. He has at least two semi-healthy relationships in the form of a childhood best friend and his daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), but he doesn’t see too much of the latter.

The morning after a day spent with his daughter, Johnny opens the door (or rather the room of the girl across the hall) to find his daughter waiting for him.

He soon gets a call from his wife telling him that she “has to leave for a while” and to get his daughter to summer camp in a few weeks.

While a daughter showing up at her father’s door might seem like a set-up for a family comedy or a drama, that’s not what happens. Instead, “Somewhere” does things a bit more realistically.

It’s a story many people have experienced: two parents divorce, the child goes to the primary caregiver (the mother in this case) and the other parent isn’t around as much as they’re supposed to be.

“Somewhere” isn’t a story about an emotionally distant man learning how to love again or a family drama; it’s just about a man spending time with his daughter.

Like I said: quiet.

However, it would be a mistake to say that nothing happens.

As I mentioned previously, a staple of the genre is that there is usually one moment where a character or theme progresses. For example,  Johnny spends most of his time drinking and sleeping around until his daughter shows up. At that point, his life pretty much revolves around her. When he finally drops her off at summer camp, he finds it difficult to assume his old life of debauchery and realizes that he truly has nothing.

On paper, it’s just plain sappy, but on screen, it works. The saving grace of this kind of film is that the characters are so genuine, believable and, well, normal, that you almost forget you’re watching a movie, and what’s more that that movie has a moral waiting at the end.

Part of the reason that Dorff and Fanning are so great is the simplicity of their characters and the overall plot. Because all they do throughout the movie is play two people spending time together, it’s all the more believable when they get to their most emotional scenes because it hasn’t all been a part of some huge melodrama.

However, this style of filmmaking can sometimes be a bit frustrating in its slowness, especially the way Coppola directed it.

While having somebody complain about the movie being boring is always a risk, Coppola really pushes it with some of “Somewhere”’s more uneventful scenes.

For example, the first scene is just one unbroken shot of  a curve in a road. Every few seconds, a black Ferrari zooms around the curve. This repeats for two whole minutes before the car stops, Johnny gets out and the film immediately cuts to the opening credits.

Well, I did say that it wasn’t the most exciting movie in the world.

This theme repeats many times throughout the film. We’re even treated to the entirety of the in-room strippers’ dance. Seriously, they get all the way through the song.

These long and mundane shots work for the same reason that Dorff and Fanning’s characters do: they’re sometimes boring, but they each have a small part to play in building up to the film’s themes.

Some of Coppola’s scenes may be long, but the last thing anyone could say about them is that they’re ugly. While it doesn’t give the viewer anything special to look at, “Somewhere” is pretty in its own low-key way, all of it accompanied by a well-picked soundtrack that steadily adds even more to the film’s overall atmosphere.

If you’re looking for a great film to simply unwind and relax to, then look no further. On the other hand, if just thinking about it makes you fidget in your seat with boredom, you’ll definitely want to pass.


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