Life with Daughter
If Somewhere dealt only with a successful actor living in catatonic disillusionment at the state of his life, it might not be so special. But this movie boasts a particularly lovely grace note. The actor in question is Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), who lives in a Los Angeles celebrity hotel filled with parties and easy women, though he doesn't seem to be enjoying any of it anymore. One day his (ex?) wife drops their 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) into his care for a little while. Their time together could have been played for cheap, awkward comedy, but in director Sofia Coppola's hands, we get something unexpected. Cleo is bright and well-adjusted, and Johnny clearly enjoys the time he suddenly has with her and accomodates his daughter without complaint. In their interactions, color appears in Johnny's life where once there was none.
Coppola has made clear the kinds of directors she emulates -- think Michelangelo Antonioni, Wong Kar-Wai, and other international directors who are very patient with their shots. If her style had felt a bit mimicking before, she seems fully assured with it now. Somewhere benefits from its long takes in that, with them, Coppola is more deeply able to contrast Johnny's life without Cleo and then with her in it. The shots linger for unbearable lengths when he's alone, but those same long shots attain a feeling of contentment and lyricism when he's with his daughter. This comes across as a sweet, subtle, and natural way to make the statement that so much of life's voids can be made smaller by parenthood.
Thankfully, Coppola never uses the material to go for maudlin, and, except for one sequence, neither does she include the mocking undertone of her Lost in Translation. Somewhere has a precise tonal calibration that feels realistically dependent on the personalities of its two main characters -- the story wouldn't work quite as well if Dorff didn't play Marco in such a low key, for instance. The only part that doesn't feel as genuine is the ending, which appears somewhat of a concession to needing an actual ending; but it doesn't dampen the previous warming sensation nor the bittersweet notion that such moments of emotional harmony are more likely to be fleeting than lifelong.
(Released by Focus Features and rated "R" for sexual content, nudity, and language.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.