“Somewhere” opens on a long, long shot of a Ferrari going solo around a racetrack, over and over again. This is both the central metaphor for the film – it’s about a youngish movie star going nowhere, but doing it in style and with power – and the stylistic template for the movie. The scene says to us, “we are going to watch a lot of things happen for longer than we need to watch them happen. The director’s doing this on purpose. Brace yourself.” Before ten more minutes of film have gone by, we’re stuck in a decidedly unglamorous stripper scene that goes on far longer than it needs to. It’s so boring that the lead character falls asleep in the middle of it. And then there’s another overly long stripper scene, then an overly long scene watching an 11 year old figure skate.
If you can make it through these scenes and remain engaged, interested and somewhat entertained, you may find “Somewhere” to be an enjoyable movie. Personally, I got bored and restless, and started thinking about director Sofia Coppola’s last film, “Lost in Translation,” which is both remarkably similar and decidedly better than “Somewhere.” Both are about celebrities lost in the detritus of being a celebrity; lonely, bored, depressed and empty. “Somewhere’s” lead, Stephen Dorff, is a young and hot movie star between pictures; he lives in a hotel room, has sex with whoever comes along (and they come along all the time) and drives his Ferrari. He has a lot in common with Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation.” Both are mostly going through the motions to remain as successful as they can, without really connecting or caring about what they’re doing. They seem lost in the scenery, overwhelmed by a world that believes them to be something special, alone in knowing that they’re really not.
There are some funny setpieces in “Somewhere,” one in particular involving a special effects team, and another that takes place at an Italian TV awards show; both feel like solid outtakes from “Translation.” In the Scarlet Johannsen role is Elle Fanning; she plays Dorff’s daughter who gets dumped on his doorstep while her mother goes away for an indefinite amount of time to sort things out. Dorff drags her along everywhere he goes, the two develop an almost wordless rapport, and when he parts with her, he says something to her that she can’t hear because of the background noise. Sound familiar?
But Dorff doesn’t have the prodigious comic gifts of Bill Murray, who has spend the second half of his career making “bored and trapped” look funny and sympathetic (his career-defining performance was in “Groundhog Day;” nothing’s been the same since then.) It’s hard to fault Dorff for not being Murray; after all, no one else is, either. But the contrast between the two actors playing such similar characters tells us something, oddly enough about the director. I though Sofia Coppola was a genius (like her father) after “Lost in Translation;” after “Somewhere,” I realize it was just a genius casting move. As I’ve said before, cinema is the director’s medium, but sometimes a great actor can make a bad director look good, and vice versa. “Lost in Translation” was an example of that, and “Somewhere” exposes Coppola’s weaknesses behind the camera.