An ill-shaven Hollywood actor lies in his suite at the Chateau Marmont while a couple of pole dancers twist and swerve for his exclusive benefit.
The blondes, in thong-exposing mini-dresses, wrap their limbs around collapsible poles and smile. They then pack the poles in red gym bags and scurry off.
Meet Johnny Marco, the jaded hero of Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere,” which premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Friday. Johnny has it all: a black Ferrari, a year-round luxury suite, helpers and minders, and the pick of the opposite sex. Women come his way unsolicited; they beckon from the room across, flash at him from the terrace below.
It all sounds like a bachelor’s dream, except to this particular bachelor. Bed-headed Johnny is forever hung over from nights of liquor and pills, slouched in a couch watching TV. His life is run by an assistant named Marge who sends him on photo shoots, media junkets, and special-effects mask moldings.
One day, he is awakened from a deep slumber by his pre-adolescent daughter Cleo. She has come to stay for a while before heading to summer camp. Their relationship, and the emotions she stirs in him, are what the film is about.
“Somewhere” beats the standards that Coppola set with “Lost in Translation” (2003), where two drifting souls, a middle-aged actor and a recent Yale graduate, meet at a Tokyo hotel. In looks, age, and lifestyle, the two form an improbable pair; temporary exile bringing them together.
“Somewhere” also shows a groggy-looking actor living in a hotel and enjoying the company of a younger female. Only, the female happens to be his daughter, making the encounter less contrived.
Coppola offers a sensitive portrayal of a common male prototype: the commitment-phobe who ducks attachment -- even to his own kid -- and suffers for it. Rather than mock the guy, Coppola shows his frail, human side. Actor Stephen Dorff, who is outstanding, gives the character three dimensions.
Cleo (the divine Elle Fanning, who is 12) offers the perfect counterpart. A model daughter in many ways, she cooks and cares for her absentee dad, has him playing karaoke guitar and ordering ice cream in the middle of the night.
Sofia Coppola is definitely a disciple of the less-is-more school of filmmaking. In “Somewhere,” time seems to stand still, and she does little to speed it along. There is no looping soundtrack tugging at the viewer’s heartstrings, no dramatic piece of intrigue halfway through. On occasion, the camera even settles for entire minutes on the motionless Johnny; it’s like watching life itself.
That said, “Somewhere” is a hoot -- especially when it shows up Hollywood’s absurdity. A press briefing turns to farce (as they often do): Reporters ask Johnny whether he’d like to visit China, what his “workout secrets” are, and whether his latest film is “a reflection of today’s post-modernism.” During an Italian TV show, Johnny is mobbed onstage by purring showgirls in glittery bikinis beneath the gaze of a couple of yellow cat sculptures.
Coppola, who wrote the script, shows great comical timing. At 39, she is one of the most gifted young directors of today, almost making you forget that she descends from Hollywood royalty.
At her Venice press conference, the filmmaker -- in a navy Bermuda that won her applause in the Italian press -- said her dad Francis Ford Coppola often took her and brother Roman along during long hotel stays abroad. Given the material those trips generated, we’re glad he did.
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)