In the ten years following the release of her opus Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola has constantly debunked claims that the film is autobiographical, regarding her life married to Spike Jonze, who was anointed as film’s new wonder boy during that time. One may be drawing perhaps a very long bow on calling Translation a true account, but 6 years later in Somewhere, there’s no escaping the comparisons.
Somewhere is traversing much of the same territory as Lost in Translation – loneliness in the midst of prosperity, aimlessness, companionship. It’s the story of Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), an actor who has recently risen to fame in Hollywood, and lives a charmed life in the Chateau Marmont, filling his days with publicity obligations for his new film. As you can probably guess, he’s not happy about this, and can’t find much meaning in his life. His monotonous life, where days don’t have distinctive beginnings and ends, hazed by alcohol, pills and constant impromptu parties in his room that aren’t organised by him, is interrupted when his 11 year old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning) drops in, leading him to reconsider his life.
Yes, it’s well and truly one percenter issues, ‘the price and fame’ stuff and that’s what, ultimately, makes Somewhere less deeply felt than Lost in Translation. Coppola’s signature sensibilities – soft lighting, Phoenix, stillness, emptiness despite prosperity – are turned up to 11 here, in a film that often feels lonely and cold, but has an unhurried stillness about it that I can’t help but admire. Cleo is arguably an avatar for Coppola, who spent most of her childhood in hotel rooms with glamorous characters, never feeling truly rooted. Somewhere‘s hotel life is similar to Lost in Translation in that it feels like a terrarium, a controlled environment separate from the outside world. It’s a life where everyone is just passing through. They arrive, take up residence, they fulfil their wants, whether that’s getting paid or drinking the alcohol, before packing up and moving on. The hotel room is like a rest stop in between the real world, a fantasy detour, almost like a theatre, each person walking on the stage, setting up, performing, and then moving on. The Chateau Marmont represents suspended animation in itself, a hotel stuck in a time warp of old Hollywood romanticism, not having been updated since its heyday.
Coppola realises how absurd Johnny’s depression is, as she shoots long takes of drives in a Ferrari, relaxing by the pool, and ice cream eating in an opulent Italian hotel room. She knows that it’s a life that many can only see on screen. How could he possibly be unhappy? But as a second performance from pole dancers unfolds in Johnny’s bedroom as he falls asleep, completely disinterested, we realise Coppola’s thesis – Johnny is stuck in an image he’s not comfortable with, placed there by a PR machine who’s creating an image of him as a fun-loving womaniser when he’s anything but, trapped there by newfound success and security. The things that make him happy are watching his daughter ice skate, eating ice cream with her, and playing Guitar Hero, just as many a father would do; not the junkets and award shows. Yes, this soft, dreamlike tale of superficiality, like many a Coppola film, is not for everyone. It’s cold, it’s lonely, it’s slow. Is it self-indulgent? Probably. But there’s something about the slowness, the absence of a feeling to rush from moment to moment, that makes Somewhere beautifully relaxing, and a dream that I couldn’t help but sink into.