Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a movie star who lives in a Californian hotel at the moment, spending his time between acting jobs by hanging around and staving off the boredom of his life with women and fast cars. He likes to drive his expensive sports car around town and on out of town race tracks to have something to do, and when he's not doing that he's sleeping off the effects of the parties he goes to, or his recently acquired broken wrist. It's as if he doesn't really have much in the way of responsibilities to concern him, but he does, he just doesn't realise it yet...
When Sofia Coppola followed up the largely disastrous costume drama Marie Antoinette with Somewhere, there were those who saw it as a retreat into her biggest success, Lost in Translation, with its hotel room and showbiz setting, the relationship at the heart of it between a girl and an older man, and the general feeling of disconnected malaise that informed much of the drama. If anything that drama was even more vague this time around, as she kept things as simple as possible, creating a small sketch of the in between days of her main character as he gradually begins to question the worth of his lifestyle.
Very gradually, as this was one of those movies where you could be forgiven for not thinking there was anything going on whatsoever, such was its deliberate lack of incident. Yet not every movie had to be heaving with plot or a plethora of subtexts, and certainly that wasn't what you could accuse Coppola of being preoccupied with here: keep this as straightforward as possible, appeared to be the maxim she adopted. That's if it could be described as straightforward when so much was meandering around its lead busy doing nothing, but after a while its lack of dramatic tension became oddly hypnotic.
Which was presumably the intention, yet there was a conflict here should you take the time to notice it, and that was all wrapped up in the person of Johnny's daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning). About halfway through her mother leaves the girl with him and disappears, and while the daughter has plans to head to summer camp, her father still has the problem of what to do with her till then. His solution? Take her with him, so we see them playing games, swimming, sunbathing, none of which is taxing in the least but there remains an unspoken understanding between them that neither truly belongs in the other's world, and that is a source of regret for both of them even if they'd never admit it to each other.
Cleo gets to go to Italy where Johnny is collecting an award, and the celeb atmosphere extends to seeing Benicio Del Toro in a lift and Maurizio Nichetti at that ceremony, but you may wonder where the star ends and Dorff begins as this seems to be the kind of way someone like him would live his life, although Marco appears to be far more of an A-lister than the man playing him. With women throwing themselves at him, much to Cleo's disgust - she has to share breakfast with one of them - but no actual meaningful relationship Johnny twigs eventually that he is unfulfilled by this string of one night (even one morning) stands, and the anonymous texts he keeps receiving which slam him point to the damage this is doing. Whether that's his soul in crisis or he simply could do better when his daughter could soothe his nothingness is up to the viewer, but it may be easier to allow Somewhere to wash over you, all the better to soak in its lazy atmosphere. As deep as you want it to be, but not insubstantial. Music by Phoenix.
The first American woman to be nominated for a best director Oscar, Sofia Coppola was born into a film making family, being the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, and she got her start in the business appearing in her father's films such as Rumblefish, Peggy Sue Got Married and, notoriously, The Godfather Part III.