Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere echoes Lost in Translation in its exploration of a lonely male movie star who finds redemption through a female figure, but this time she focuses on an actor whose career is on the rise and his relationship with his 11-year-old daughter. Through its meditative and poetic exploration of the vacant personal and professional life of Johnny Marco, (a Colin Farrell-esque bad boy) Somewhere exposes how life in the Hollywood fishbowl distorts the dichotomy between the quotidian and the cinematic, or the real and the unreal.
Marco occupies the very unreal spaces of lavish hotels; when he is not travelling, he lives at the Chateau Marmont on the Sunset Strip—an Edenic bevy of women, booze, and drugs. His hedonistic lifestyle juxtaposes suburbia’s doldrums. Coppola emphasizes Marco’s emptiness within these transient and illusory locales through wide shots wherein the vast and ostentatious rooms threaten to swallow his small and lonely figure.
Another contributor to Johnny Marco’s hollow existence is the fact that he cannot escape the performative nature of his profession even when the cameras stop rolling; rhe cinematic seems to bleed into every aspect of his private life—expunging any sense of authentic humanity. As if to reenact the action film he currently stars in, Marco races away from an SUV that he believes is following him. During an awards show, Marco attempts to give a genuine and heartfelt acceptance speech only to be interrupted by a group of chorus girls and their hyper-sexual song and dance routine.
The juxtaposition of Marco’s reactions to female figures performing different styles of dance signifies Coppola’s preoccupation with the real versus the unreal. Whereas Marco can only reward the strippers he hires for their phony and fumbling performance a drunken, half-asleep single clap, he erupts into a robust applause for his daughter Cleo’s ice skating routine. He receives more fulfilment through their familial connection rather than the contrived eroticism of the twin exotic dancers. Marco admires his daughter’s vivacious spirit and provincial desires: to play the Wii, swim, or giggle at television shows. Since Cleo is the only figure in his life that does not perform around him, she is the only one to provide him with a sense of self-worth. He values their relationship because it is authentic and not simply predicated on the fact that he is a Hollywood star.
Coppola constructs Hollywood as a farcical playground. While the profession of acting itself deals with the unreal—if not ludicrous—nature of a human pretending to be another human, most actors regard their work as a grounded, tangible contribution to society. However, Coppola makes a conscious decision not to show Johnny utilizing his performance skills, but rather participating in the very bizarre requirements of his job: press junkets, parties, and interviews. She lingers on ravenous reporters that blind Marco with their flashbulbs and scream out questions while they trample him with their microphones; they care little about Marco’s actual answer and more about obtaining it. We marvel at how quickly stars and interviewers turn themselves “on” and camera ready, and how disparate this image is from their true selves. In one scene, Marco and his co-star whisper in a heated spat between their plastered, sweet smiles for a photoshoot; no one will ever know the animosity that lies beneath the surface of those photographs.
Coppola’s shot of fanatical autograph seekers—eyes wide and mouths nearly frothing with excitement—following an intimate but rather banal father/daughter conversation between Johnny and Cleo displays society’s idolization of celebrities. Stars, they’re just like us! Following Marco’s journey enables us to observe what it is like for complete strangers to eagerly seek out one infinitesimal moment of your time and to love you without knowing who truly you are. Despite all this, Johnny is morose and lonesome—it seems that possessing the adoration of a stranger means nothing if you do not share a tangible or familial connection with someone who cares for your authentic self.
The hypnotic sequence of Johnny Marco wearing special effects makeup epitomizes Coppola’s Hollywood exposé. The makeup artists envelop Johnny within a white plaster that covers his entire head and eyes and leaves nothing but the two holes of his nostrils. Johnny is left alone in deafening silence to let the plaster settle—save for the lone sound of the phone ringing to indicate that he will soon be forgotten. Coppola methodically zooms into the eerie image of Johnny’s plastered head to symbolize the Hollywood prison that entombs him and elides his humanity. Masks of famous Universal Studios monsters lie in the background, underpinning the scene’s eeriness and signaling the phantasmal erraticism of the film business. Eventually, the special effects artists return to show Johnny the fruits of their wizardry. Johnny gazes into the mirror at an unsettling glimpse into the future; they have remade him into an old man. He realizes that if he doesn’t change his libertine ways now he will quickly become an old man filled with regrets.
Returning to her well-worn themes of surface vs. inner realities and the nature of celebrity, Somewhere remains emblematic of Sofia Coppola’s extraordinary directorial vision. Coppola plumbs Johnny Marco’s acute despair through quiet and hypnotic images shot in a lingering docu-style. The snapshots of tender father and daughter moments wallow in the propinquity of its voyeuristic realism and never succumb to saccharine pandering. Although some critics disparaged the film as the privileged whining about being privileged, Coppola’s nomadic childhood and lifetime association with Hollywood is still an important story to be told. She exquisitely reveals how our idols are still people with humane complexities and struggles, not just objects for our consumption—despite how much la la land’s publicity machine wants us to believe otherwise. Somewhere remains a fascinating look behind the curtain of Hollywood, our earthly Oz.
by Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero, Bruce Springsteen. She has an infinite and ever-expanding list of favorite films, but her top three will always be Dog Day Afternoon, Raging Bull, and The Lord of the Rings. Caroline loves cheesy 1980s teen comedies, Mad Men, young Al Pacino, and films with moving musical sequences. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies and writes for her blog acinematicvision.com. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss and Instagram @crolins