It’s hard to give a shit about the rich. The beautiful and the damned don’t stir much sympathy. All the angst of moneyed loneliness seems…slight, when compared to poor and ugly people who feel lonely. Pity should be reserved for people the world shuts out; not those who shun the world’s embrace. No matter how banal your life may seem – if you’re rich – you’re still fretting over it in a five-star hotel, as opposed to a box factory, or the unemployment line. Ennui may be a natural by-product of excess, but you still get to be profligate (with all the fun that entails) before you realise how empty your life is. Sofia Coppola’s new movie, Somewhere, is about the sadness of having everything. Luckily, it’s not as bad as you might think.
At the Chateau Marmont – an opulent hotel with an edgy reputation – we meet a famous actor (Stephen Dorff) who is feeling isolated. He spends his days by the pool, or watching pole dancers perform for him in his hotel room. He receives anonymous text messages telling him he’s an asshole. He drives his fast car, in circles, on a deserted race track. And he tries, fitfully, to be father… though there’s a sense in which he thinks his daughter is too good for him, so vacuous has his life become. She, fortunately, loves her dad. And together, they are charming. She lectures him about the Twilight saga; he teaches her how to bet on craps. They play out an endless slumber party, and teeter on the brink of family.
Sofia Coppola has made this oedipal movie before. Last time it was called Lost in Translation, and the little girl got to kiss her father. This time, things are chaste. But it’s all still set in hotels. Like Eloise, the affluent six-year-old in Kay Thompson’s classic children’s books, Sofia spent most of her formative years in rented rooms “on the tippy-top floor”, waiting for someone to pay attention to her. Now that she’s a director, hotels seem a natural setting for a story, and sad ingénues are her sole protagonists. She isn’t given to sentimentality (like her father), instead, she specialises in the sort of sang froid women adopt when they’re more used to luxury than swathes of feeling. In Somewhere, there’s only one scene where the little girl cries, and the moment she’s done, her dad takes her on a private helicopter ride over Las Vegas. Upset tends to dissipate with things like that. Until you’re older, and you get to make films.
As the dissolute dad, Stephen Dorff looks like a men’s fragrance advertisement. He’s got so many stomach muscles; he looks like he’s been eating tools. His tattoos are winningly rebellious. His looks devil-may-care when he smokes. Even though he’s a scarcely-articulate douchebag with the intellectual life of a palm tree… you still want to hang out with him. There’s a scene, in Italy, where Dorff’s latest conquest sits down at the breakfast table with the family. It’s clear, to Dorff, that his little girl detests the intruder. So he gives his daughter a look… at once apologetic and conspiratorial. And you know then why his daughter loves him, and why Stephen Dorff will never have a problem attracting women.
Elle Fanning, like Sofia Coppola, has been in showbiz since an agent cut her umbilical cord (she had her first major screen credit at age two), so it really is a stretch for her to play a non-actor. She’s innocent as a lily in Somewhere, and she easily presents the strongest argument why anyone should care about Stephen Dorff. Her role is to be authentic; a real person in a morass of phonies. Thankfully, she isn’t given the kind of precocious wisdom children are often endowed with in this kind of movie. Sofia Coppola, to her credit, writes the girl as neither clairvoyant nor dim. Instead, Fanning gets to play a girl who seems entirely normal… who doesn’t see her uncertain future, or how painful adolescence is going to be.
The photographer Helmut Newton died, age 83, when the Cadillac he was driving crashed into a wall outside the Chateau Marmont. After a lifetime celebrating excess, even his death seemed glamorous… at the wheel of a flamboyant car, outside a hotel where pole dancing comes with room service. Not many octogenarians die in this way. Or rather, they do – their cars crash, routinely – but not outside the Chateau Marmont. The fact that Somewhere is set here, in the cloistered walls of a celebrity retreat, and not in a mall in Boise, Idaho, is because – sad fact – Sofa Coppola knows depression is easier to look at when it’s dressed in pearls. She’s right. Her movie is elegant, and perceptive. But poor people have it worse.