Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost in Translation divided both audiences and critics with many calling it the ‘film of the year’ but others completely confused as to what the point of the film was exactly. I would imagine that Somewhere will split people in a similar fashion, although perhaps not as conclusively into two camps. The trouble with Somewhere is that it’s an excellent film which ends up sabotaging itself as a result of the director’s poor decision making. So, sorry Sofia Coppola, but this is your fault.
That said, the script is excellent. I think that the writing of the daughter, Cleo, managing to dull down the unrealistic precociousness of recent outings like (500) Days of Summer and Definitely, Maybe. So I’ll pat Miss Coppola on the back for that and fully expect her to get an Original Screenplay Oscar nomination. However the film is riddled with bad directorial choices. The extended shots are decided to induce a feeling of European sophistication, but ended up being both boring and distracting. Part of the problem here is that the music (by the director’s other half, the front man of Phoenix) is so good, so when the pictures aren’t telling a story it’s all too easy to slip into a slightly catatonic state of choosing to listen rather than watch. This isn’t helped by the fact that two often the scenes feel like little vignettes that have been pulled together into a random order. Take note: a film needs to coherent and however beautifully shot a scene might be, try to make it necessary and related to the story. Just a tip.
But the acting is good and this paves over a lot of the cracks. Stephen Dorff channels his Hollywood experiences into the role of lost soul A-Lister Johnny Marco. There must have been a point, a couple of years ago, when producers realized that Dakota Fanning was getting too old for this type of role and so, rather than looking for an alternative amongst the vast array of talented youngsters, they nabbed her kid sister. Despite the nepotism (perhaps that’s what the director saw in her?) she’s fantastic here, so I can’t really complain. There’s a lot to like in this film, it’s just let down by slightly iffy directorial choices that will play worse with the public than with Hollywood insiders. The Venice jury found it terribly easy to associate with the characters and problems of Somewhere, but I think that very few ‘real people’ are going to have that experience.
A beautiful film, but one that is too self indulgent and too self-consciously stylized. Not a huge error but one that stops this film from contending with the best of the year.