Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Frank Reviews - Somewhere - 2010 - Sofia Coppola

Why are you such an asshole? 

Throughout Sofia Coppola's latest mini masterpiece Somewhere our protagonist Johhny Marco (what a name) receives that cryptic question via text message. The sender's blocked phone number leaves the audience and Johhny guessing who(m) and what he did wrong. We soon finds out that Marco is  more than deserving of those blunt words for being a lazy, idle and filthy stinking rich celebrity. But he's not all that bad.

Somewhere could be consider a quasi-sequel to Lost in Translation. Both films center around a male movie starlet as they grapple with the hollowness of stardom and finding comfort in a non romantic relationship with the opposite sex. 

If you found Translation to be a boring exercise in the excess of modern neo-realism, substituting plot for pretty pictures and elitist pop culture, you aren't going to like this one either.

When the film begins you might question how and why you should empathize and not loathe Johhny Marco. The guy drives a loud car with a trunk in the front, has nubile twin blond strippers on call and one of the guys from Jackass is his best friend. Just as we begin to sympathize with Hitler (as a tragically flawed character) towards the end of Downfall, so do we understand the plight of Johhny Marco. Now, Marco is not a fascist dictator but he does embody the idle celebrity who we love to despise, envy and keep employed.

 Much in the same way Nicole Hollofocner uses the struggles of the middle-upper class to show the universality of human doubt and sorrow, so does Sofia with celebrity. At the core of the film we have a character who is ultimately unhappy even though he can buy anything he wants. While the whole "money can't buy happiness" line is nothing new, never before (outside of Antonioni films) has there been a cinematic representation of the banality that wealth and questionably gained status can bring. 

I appreciate relationships that are not normally seen in film, especially in American cinema. The father-daughter bond that is formed over the course of the film is the most satisfying one since Paper Moon and alot less creepy. It is through this unique bond between disconnected, unfit father and daughter that Marco discovers that he needs to make some changes in his life. Where Marco's eventual back turning on all that he is amassed could have been a cliche easy answer to the audience expectations, the relationship between the two is so honest and un-sentimental that the end comes from a place of discovery and not hackneyed expectation fulfillment.

Sofia wields a very heavy hand when it comes to the symbolism in Somewhere.  Every shot, even those that seem to linger past their time, is meticulously constructed to chart the emotional/spiritual growth of our protagonist. I have seen the film three times so far and each time there are little nuances that creep up out of nowhere.

"let them eat cake"

The cast all turn in subdued and memorable performances, bringing the story of the characters full circle with out the aide of an over wrought plot or dialogue. Stephen Dorf's real life status as an almost A list actor helps on a meta-level with our connection to his character. Ella Fanning does a fantastic job as the daughter that helps Marco find his heart or whatever. Better performance than anything her sister has turned out, even though I am a big fan of her narration of the Henery Darger bio-doc In The Realms of the Unreal.

The person who really surprised was Jackass cohort Chris Pontious who plays Marco's friend from back in the day who helps bring the flamboyant decadence down to Earth. Pontious is a natural in front of the camera and totally believable as the kind-hearted eternal house guest. There is a scene in particular with Fanning where Pontious finds out more about Marco's daughter in 5 minutes than Marco knows after eleven years of her being around. This could have easily been a stiff and/or vaguely creepy scene, but the earnestness that Pontious brings to the scene is almost heartbreaking. He should have won a best supporting award somewhere. 

As to be expected pop music plays a large role in setting the tone of the film. Unlike Marie Antoinette where the other timely musics was omnipresent to underscore the decadent youthfulness of the titular character, the music here is all incidental. There are moments like the above pictured stripping scenes where we hear the girls glide up and down the pole(s) in unison to Foo Fighters "Hero". Or there is T-Rex's "20 Century Boy" which we hear as Johhny fails miserably during a solo session of Guitar Hero. See what I'm saying with the symbolism? While I did not feel the connection to the music in this film like I have with Coppola's other work (meaning I won't be jamming to the soundtrack day and night) I was very impressed the use of music and it's important roll in the storytelling process. 

So is Johhny Marco an asshole? I think it would be hard not to be if found in the position that Marco finds himself in. While Coppola never passes judgment over her characters, by the end of the film Marco does find some sort of clarity and hopefully redemption. That clarity is not achieved by any cliche self epiphany or forced plot device but instead by watching and being apart of Marco's life and walking by his side as he leaves his piece of shit car in the dust. 

Frank Final Verdict: A

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