Tuesday, February 01, 2011

"Somewhere", Somehow, Some Way, You're Moved

On Friday, I went to see Sophia Coppola's Somewhere, her haunting film about the emptiness of a Hollywood celebrity and the redemption he finds through his tweenage daughter. Its a good thing that I read a review of the film before seeing it, but I generally do read reviews when I'm indecisive about seeing a film. The review that I read was intriguing, though the writer did warn that the movie was slow. Some people might be bothered by that. For me, it depends on the film. Last year, I saw George Clooney's The American and I was disappointed, in a large part because it moved kind of slow. However, Coppola is an Oscar-nominated director (for Lost in Translation, which I thought was overrated) and the daughter of a famous, iconic director (Francis Ford Coppola, for the non-film afficiandos). I figured that she knows what she's doing and the point she's hoping to convey with this film.

To answer the question...yes, it was slow moving. But that was the point. This film is meant to be a huge contrast to the high-glitz, high-speed life in the tabloids that we've come to expect of our celebrities. Instead, this film actually shows what is probably closer to reality. In between all the parties, the adoring fans, and papa-nazis with their megawatt cameras flashing your every misstep, there are still moments when the celebrity has to be alone and face his inner demons or avoid them through the usual coping mechanisms (drinking, drugs, sex).

Stephen Dorff plays a major Hollywood star named Johnny Marco, whom I would assume was of the same stature as Ben Affleck in the late 1990s. However, he's a bit an unusual celebrity in that it is quite obvious that he is an introvert in a world that values extroverts. He lives in the Chateau Marmont, a famous Hollywood hotel where some celebrities have been known to live in between homes, as well as the place where John Belushi died of an overdose. He will go off and do his publicity thing only to return to his suite where a party is going on. People want to talk to him, but he seems more content standing in the corner, drinking, and watching everyone around him. He obviously has a problem connecting with people in a real way.

When he's alone in his room, some stripper twins do some pole dancing, which is so unstimulating that he falls asleep before the routine is finished. I must admit, that I've seen some pole dancing in other films and it is kind of mesmerizing to a male's visual senses, but in this movie, pole dancing never looked so dull. No wonder why he fell asleep all the time! But what a sad life he leads, where hiring strippers to pole dance in his bedroom is his night time entertainment.

His life screams out in quiet desperation, at least until his daughter enters the picture.

Elle Fanning (younger sister of Dakota Fanning) plays the daughter who is sent to stay with her dad while her mother goes off to "find herself" (oh these self-indulgent Hollywood types! Proof that money is wasted on these folks). She doesn't seem at all impressed by her father's Hollywood celebrity, even as he drives around the Los Angeles metro area in a Ferrari. Slowly, she brings her father out of his shell. He often acts like an older brother who got baby sitting duty for his kid sister, but there are some sweet moments between them.

Once scene I liked in particular is when he took his daughter to Italy, where he was receiving an award at an Oscars-like show on Italian television. He has a female "FWB" (friend with benefits) that he manages to invite into his hotel suite after his daughter has fallen asleep. In the morning, when the daughter wakes up to eat breakfast, she meets the Italian lady who wears a bathrobe. The lady asks her how old she is and when told that she's 11, the next question is if she has a boyfriend! What a stupid question for an adult to ask a child! It was always annoying as a teenager when adults asked if I had a girlfriend, because the question implies that you're expected to have one and if you didn't, something was wrong with you. That adults ask this question of teenage girls is even worse, because girls already have the problem of living up to expectations that they are only valued for being attractive to boys. Forcing relationship expectations on an 11 year old should be considered child abuse. I can't respect any adult who would ask that question of a child.

The daughter was clearly annoyed by this lady and gave her father the most intense stares that make no mistake about what she's angry about. It was a well done scene.

Another scene I found interesting was the press junket, where the actor is expected to charm the press, no matter what stupid questions they ask, as he promotes his latest film. The press spit out question after question, without really letting him answer the previous questions. Some of the questions were so ridiculous, I have no doubt that it is based in reality. The problem with the superficiality of Hollywood is that it seeps into everything, including the press. However, one reporter does get in a good question that sends the actor on a soul search: "Who is Johnny Marco?" Exactly.

One of the more amusing scenes is when Marco is requested to the studios for the makeup people to make a plaster of his head. This results in many hours of sitting in a chair with his entire head covered in whatever materials they use to create the rubbery mask, with nothing but breathing holes for his nose. That's a perfect meditation moment if there ever was one.

The movie is definitely haunting and beautiful, a great tribute to a father-daughter relationship. Without the daughter, Johnny Marco is an empty celebrity, wasting away his life in a desperate loneliness. The spacing of the scenes is flawless as it conveys the mundane reality that most people who read celebrity gossip magazines are probably not aware about. Life is not a 24 hour party, with constant entourages and hanger-ons. At some point, you will be alone and what do you do with yourself during those moments of solitude? For an empty person, boredom fills the void in a suffocating loneliness. I get the impression that Johnny Marco would not make a great friend, though he really needs a good friend in his life. Though his relationship with the girl's mother did not succeed, at least he received a daughter out of it, who brings some measure of meaning to his otherwise empty life.

The thoughts I had while watching the movie was mainly that all this money is wasted on young celebrity. It amazes me that these people don't seem to know what to do with themselves when they aren't working. If it were me, I have so many personal projects that I want to do that I would never get bored. I never get bored now, so I don't understand why people get bored. There is so much to learn. There is so much need out there, where one's celebrity or money could actually help bring the spotlight to a worthwhile charity. I know that people criticize celebrities for using charities to make themselves look good, but I think it deepens the soul of a celebrity if they got out of their self-indulgent lifestyle for a time and actually visited people in Haiti, or Sudan, or Afghanistan, or Cambodia. They can have a real impact and they won't feel bored or empty.

Kudos to Sophia Coppola for directing a hauntingly beautiful ode to celebrity and the redemptive qualities in having to be responsible for one's child. It might be a cliche that having children forces a person to grow up, but its a storyline that never gets old.

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