Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Premise: A hard partying movie star (Stephen Dorff) reexamines his life after a visit from his daughter (Elle Fanning).
What Works: The acting by young Elle Fanning is convincing and she makes the film bearable.
What Doesn’t: In the past few years it has become fashionable in the independent film scene to reject plot or genre in an attempt to capture something filmmakers or critics might call “real” or “authentic.” The problem with this style of cinema is that, after discarding all the familiar elements of cinematic storytelling, the filmmakers do not replace it with anything. And this is the downfall of Somewhere, a movie that, in its attempt to break free of Hollywood clichés, ends up falling back on independent film clichés. Somewhere has an appalling premise: that the audience should feel sympathy for a man who lives a life of luxury and privilege, working a few hours a day and then drinking his nights away in between sexual escapades with groupies. While Somewhere does effectively make its case for the empty, cyclical, and unfulfilling nature of the lead character’s lifestyle, the film’s commentary on it is overbearing and superficial. Because the movie makers reject any and all cinematic norms and refuse to come up with anything new, they set themselves up on an impossible task; Somewhere asks us to empathize with this man but then sabotages any possibility of the audience making that kind of connection. And while some defenders of Somewhere might argue that this is the point, that the character is stuck in an unfulfilling hedonistic cycle, it is not enough to sustain the film’s hour and a half running time when it never moves beyond the revelations made in the first fifteen minutes. A lot can be learned by comparing Somewhere to the 2009 film The Girlfriend Experience. Both films use minimalist cinematic techniques and extended periods of silence, both films deal with the superficial nature of a solely material existence, and both feature lead actors looking blank and sad. But The Girlfriend Experience was a thoughtful meditation on commerce and human relationships (subtle as it may be), featured a rise and fall in emotion and fortune, and brought its audience to a conclusion about its themes. Somewhere does none of this.
Bottom Line: Somewhere is a pretentious and vacant piece of crap masquerading as chic art house cinema. The film may be well intentioned, but there just isn’t anything to it.
Episode: #323 (January 23, 2011)