“Who is Johnny Marco?” a Spanish journalist asks Johnny (Stephen Dorff) early on in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere. It’s a routine question for a Hollywood press conference, but here it rings loudly throughout the remainder of the film as Johnny, a bad-boy, thirty-something actor is never seen giving an answer, and I suspect he couldn’t if he tried. He’s a man without an answer and this film sets out to prove it at every turn.
Somewhere‘s opening title sequence features Johnny’s black Ferrari as it zooms by, driving off into the barren distance before once again coming around, roaring from left to right before finally stopping after a couple of laps. Johnny emerges and looks around. Where is he? Somewhere? Nowhere?
This is minimalism at Sofia Coppola’s most extreme. Her 42-page script hints at a film less than half of Somewhere‘s 98 minute runtime. She fills the screen with extended, quiet looks at life’s inane day-to-day activities as the loneliness of celebrity is on display.
To be Johnny Marco is to be paranoid of the black SUV behind him and the paparazzi it may hold. The women in his life blend together to the point he can’t keep their names and faces straight. Half-naked strippers dance in his hotel room to his mild amusement while occasional texts (anonymous to the audience) call him an “asshole.” Johnny has lost his humanity and his identity. He’s merely shuffling from one place to the next without much direction.
It isn’t until his 11-year-old daughter Chloe (Elle Fanning) visits that he finally begins to realize what it is to have a real relationship. He’s as much a child as she is, if not more so, and as he learns from her, you can only begin to wonder what she is learning from him and all his late night callers.
Dorff and Fanning are excellent in roles that ask them to simply be. Coppola doesn’t fill the story with exposition or needless dialogue. It’s easy to also notice hints of a more personal side to this story. While Coppola has denied the film is about her own family life, it’s hard to imagine she didn’t draw from personal experience when deciding how to portray the press (I guarantee there’s a reason she chose the international press instead of domestic) and Johnny’s handlers, of whom the script says treat Johnny as “if heâ€™s retarded or crazy.”
Comparisons to Coppola’s Lost in Translation have been made and if anything, Johnny is on his way to becoming Bill Murray’s Bob Harris. However, the point of this film seems to be Johnny’s realization that he doesn’t want to become that person.
A key scene features Johnny sitting down for a team of effects artists to take a plaster mold of his entire head. Covered in goo he’s made to sit for 40 minutes while it hardens with only two breathing holes for his nostrils. The scene couldn’t be any more a metaphor for his loneliness and isolation, but that’s not the end of it. Later on, when he sees what’s come of the work, he looks in the mirror and sees himself as an 80-year-old old man. The make-up is giving him a glimpse into the future and it’s evident from that point forward he’s seen the man he doesn’t want to become.
Somewhere‘s slow pace is almost hypnotic. It’s easy to fall into its trance if you’re looking to find out more, but as a piece of entertainment I’m afraid people will grow weary. To use words such as quiet, reflective and meditative to describe this film are almost exaggerations in themselves. This is a film you need to want to explore and examine or you will be left out in the cold, wondering when it will all end.
By the time the film is over little has been learned, but progress has been made. I still don’t think Johnny could answer the question, “Who is Johnny Marco?” but I think he finally reaches a point where he can say, “I’m trying to find out.”