At one point in her quiet and downright languorous Hymn to Hollywood, “Somewhere,” Sofia Coppola points her static camera at her star, Stephen Dorff, as his head is encased in goo. He’s a movie star who needs to have a head-cast made for some old age makeup for a film he’s about to shoot.
We watch him gooped up. Then we watch him, for one minute and 40 seconds, left alone as it dries. His character, lazily named “Johnny Marco,” dozes off. And we’re tempted to join him.
Breathlessly praised as poetry in some corners, occasionally dead-on in its depiction of the isolation and emptiness of film celebrity, “Somewhere” is a triumph of of tedium, banality passing for depth, a vacuous embrace of nothing.
And Coppola and long takes, her static, locked-down camera that delivers a technical exercise in action that goes outside the frame? The Emperor’s Daughter has no clothes.
Johnny lives a life of quiet dissipation in Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont, the famed no-holds-barred party hotel where John Belushi met his end. Marco drinks and smokes and rarely speaks, spending most of his time alone, either in his suite or in his Ferrari. Sometimes, he leaves the room and comes back to a party he hasn’t planned and winds up drunk and sleeping with a groupie. He regularly hires a pair of matched-twin blond pole dancers, who bring their apparatus and their semi-rehearsed act to his room. On a good day, he may bed one or both of them.
Coppola, who grew up in a prime position to observe this world, revels in the tedium of such a life, the limits of Marco’s world. Dorff’s performance and the way Marco disconnects from it all, breaking his arm in a tumble down the stairs, brings to mind the antics of Kiefer Sutherland. But Johnny Marco is a kind and congenial higher-functioning boozer. And a boring one.
Dazed, he fields idiotic questions from the Hollywood foreign press, follows random women he spies in traffic, plays Guitar Hero and tolerates his hanger-on brother Sammy.
Somebody is sending nasty texts to Johnny’s private number. Might it be a jilted co-star (Michelle Monaghan)? Tucked into his cocoon, Johnny doesn’t care.
But there’s an eleven year-old kid, Cleo (Elle Fanning, perhaps the world’s most adult twelve year-old) whose mother is going through some sort of narcissistic crisis. Johnny finds himself taking her on, driving her to skating lessons, wondering “Is that black SUV following us?” But there are no paparazzi. This is a world too boring to make it on TMZ.
Johnny drags Cleo along to a nonsensical Italian awards show, with all the language-barrier hoopla that entails. Cleo may be a Hollywood brat, but she shows no outward signs of brattiness. She’s just as lonely as her dad and needs a committed adult in her life. Preferably not Sammy (Chris Pontius), whose familiarity with her is a little creepy.
The calm insularity of it all suggests that Coppola was going for the anti-”Entourage” here. The shallow minutia of that sometimes entertaining TV show is replaced by silent soul searching — and shallow minutia. Johnny bumps into Benicio del Toro on the elevator, and watches “Icicle Thief” director Mauricio Nicetti collect an award. And yawns.
Coppola’s patience — the opening scene is a couple of minutes of that Ferrari, zooming around a desert race track, in and out of the frame — seems aimed at testing ours. But is this really a fitting punishment for the beat-down she took for “Marie Antoinette”? And in any event, “Somewhere” turns out to be nowhere we haven’t been before.
See for Yourself
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning
Director: Sofia Coppola
Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes
Rating: R for sexual content, nudity and language.