Going Nowhere

Director Sofia Coppola aspires to narcissistic frivolity, and that’s about all she achieves

The awful ennui suffered by spoiled Hollywood stars is the pathetic subject matter for Sofia Coppola’s crushingly dull anti-plot drama, Somewhere. Stephen Dorff’s bratty Hollywood star Johnny Marco sulks around L.A. in his black Ferrari coupe. This is when he isn’t paying for the same pair of pole-dancer twins who set up shop in Johnny’s various hotel rooms. He likes to stay at the Chateau Marmont and drink champagne. Other than that, nothing much happens.

Johnny must face reality (or at least a wealthy celebrity’s version of it) in order to take care of his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) while his estranged wife checks out indefinitely. Father and daughter bond over lying in the sun on their plush hotel’s poolside deck.

Excruciatingly dull and narcissistic, Somewhere is a suspect milieu satire that favors enforced glamour over narrative complexity. This is one of the worst films of 2010. It’s so unpleasant that it makes Casey Affleck’s Joaquin Phoenix disaster mockumentary, I’m Still Here, seem interesting by comparison.

Somewhere is an art film without rigor. That it won the Berlin Film Festival and has been praised by high-profile critics such as Roger Ebert and Tony Scott only spells career disaster for Coppola. She’s been rewarded when she should be punished. Since starting strong with her first film The Virgin Suicides, and getting very lucky with Lost in Translation, Coppola took a hard left turn with Marie Antoinette under the defense, “You’re considered superficial and silly if you are interested in fashion, but I think you can be substantial and still be interested in frivolity.”

There is a corollary of ego between Phoenix and Dorff’s character in Somewhere. Both are media products who disdain their chosen profession to a point of making a mockery of their personal lives. If there’s a hook to hang any sense of emotional outlet on in Somewhere it comes from Johnny’s encounters with the matching pole dancers he contracts to ostensibly release his heavy load of daily oppression.

At a time when unemployment is staggering, Coppola’s idea of escapism involves inarticulate spoiled characters hiding out in ritzy hotel rooms with in-room swimming pools. The only lessons Johnny teaches Cleo involve the proper condescending attitude with which to wear her sunglasses or how dark her tan should be. Somewhere is too shallow to be even mildly insulting.