Nearly 22 years ago, Sofia Coppola debuted with her script for the film New York Stories. It concerned Zoe, a 12-year-old girl who lived in the Sherry-Netherland. She was a Manhattan princess, like Eloise, lullabied to sleep by her father's flute. Nothing has changed in the decades since. Despite wide praise, the new Coppola film, Somewhere, is essentially a princess' movie.
There's no reason why the daughter of the man who made The Godfather should pretend that she's ordinary. But after only three previous feature-length films, the director is repeating herself. Note how the scene of Bill Murray's bemused gaze at a stripper in Lost in Translation is doubled up with two dancers in Somewhere.
The twin blondes twirl before the sated gaze of Stephen Dorff's Johnny Marco, a Brad Pitt&–level celeb cooling his heels at L.A.'s Chateau Marmont. Stubbled and tattooed, he's a male version of the other pining, semi-bored celebs in Coppola's films: the Lisbon sisters in The Virgin Suicides (1999), the two sleepy people in her best movie, Lost in Translation (2003) and the shop-till-you-drop queen in Marie Antoinette (2006).
Marco is enduring the junket of the European opening of his latest film, Deadly Agenda. Michelle Monaghan has an incisive cameo as his co-star, who seemed to have had a lousy time with him off-camera. Johnny mutters his answers as a scrum of European critics ask him questions that are way above his pay grade.
It's a rough life. Women waylay him, flash him or wait topless in his bed, while makeup artists show him what he'll look like when he's old and wrinkled. Marco is so exhausted that he falls asleep face first in a pickup's crotch. Mysterious texts arrive, demanding to know why he's such a pig.
Like a grumpus in a Shirley Temple movie, Marco has all that he can desire. But it's killing him, and only a little girl can help him find his way to happiness. That's his daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), who has been foisted on him by his ex to watch for a few days before she's due at summer camp.
Eleven-year-old Cleo is unresentful of her father's promiscuousness; she's a trooper, too, ready to accompany him to Milan for an awards ceremony. The star of the sequence is the Hotel Principe di Savoia, with a private in-house swimming pool, and then nothing more of Milan is seen; it's airport-hotel-airport, and back to the Chateau.
The sadness of a life spent in transit, sleeping with whomever and driving a sports car fast is essential to the triste undertones, though Dorff does project some humanity. Unfortunately, this makes for sentiment that spoils Coppola's picture of alienation—this, and the utter perfection and lack of mood.
Why is this film being looked at as anything but piffle? It must be Coppola's eye: the way the giant figures on Sunset Strip billboards leer into the Chateau's windows (an effect also achieved in the 1999 Hurlyburly), the wide Ed Ruscha&–like storefront dwarfing Marco's Ferrari and those blank, long L.A. streets and freeways.
As in Marie Antoinette, Coppola faces the problem of trying to have her cake and critiquing it too. When you're a filmmaker, and you love the sweet life and have a great eye, there's a natural career for you: television commercials. Who couldn't sell a suite at the Chateau Marmont with these images?
'Somewhere' is playing at Century Regency 6 (280 Smith Ranch Road, San Rafael; 415.4796496) and opens Jan. 28 at Summerfield Cinemas in Santa Rosa.