Somewhere Familiar

If you are Sofia Coppola, and you are planning on doing an indie drama with the requisite long takes, pedestrian dialogue, and narrative inconclusiveness, then you also carry a few responsibilities. Since your implicit aim is to reveal the complex inner psychology of characters, it is usually not a good idea to repeat the same scene, with the same reaction on the part of the character you are trying to dissect. It is also a low shot to copy and paste moments and moods from your earlier work, which, while being similarly slow and pensive, at least had the advantage of originality. Finally, do not end on a deliriously ‘heartwarming’ ending when you have done next to nothing to make us sympathetic to the blank protagonist.

I understand what some of the critics are saying about Coppola’s new effort, Somewhere. Roger Ebert praised the director for her observations of the continuously constructed and managed world of Hollywood stardom. Liam Lacey notes the “retro” feel of the film, as if Coppola used her father’s Rumble Fish lenses. I know the film is different, that it is meant to be watched with patience, and that Sofia Coppola is a very talented and smart filmmaker.

What I do not understand is why Somewhere is full of takes so long that even the lowest common denominator has grasped the metaphor before the cut. Why do we need to see a pair of strippers dancing on collapsible poles not once but twice, with nothing but a change of uniform? And why does each scene go on for at least two minutes?

Granted, Coppola is still a good satirist. Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a bland celebrity shuttled from LA to Rome, from resplendent suites to press conferences, like a good-looking zombie. There are some clever moments: he exchanges barbs with co-star Michelle Monaghan in between smiling poses for a photographer. Not much holds these isolated moments together, and Coppola said much of the same in the superior Lost in Translation.

Johnny and his daughter Cleo have the more or less the same relationship that Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlet Johansson) had. A bored actor is encased in a hotel. He’s meets a younger woman who changes his nihilistic outlook. This woman likes him (in a platonic way) but is disappointed by his excesses. In fact, the morning when Cleo finds Johnny’s Italian lover at the breakfast table contains the same muted resentment as the scene when Charlotte discovers Bob has picked up a nightclub singer. Not to split hairs, but both the lover and the singer wear a white bathrobe.

It’s time, I think, for Coppola to leave the theme of fame and explore another world, one further away from her own childhood and the moments she glimpsed on her father’s sets.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Somewhere Familiar

  1. i think you should stick to analyzing the hollywood award season. it seems as though you think that indies are always blatant character vehicles, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. i would suggest starting with the french and italian cinema of the 60s and early 70s to really understand what an “indie art film” is all about. i think you are confusing true indie cinema with the co-optation of the likes of fox search light or focus features.

    • I wouldn’t want to lump all indie art films with the “indie drama” I was trying to describe. I was divining what Somewhere’s aims could possibly be, and focused on character psychology – maybe I should have described the other characteristics of art films. Maybe you don’t consider Somewhere true indie; my point was to argue that the film was pretentious, assuming the guise of something character driven and heavily concerned with atmosphere without offering much depth.

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