The thing about real life and about making movies that are supposed to reflect real life is that real life is messy and lacks a cohesive narrative arc, sure, but even more problematically, real life is fucking booooooring. It’s so boring! Kill me! Make me dead, at least that would be DRAMATIC. What I’m trying to say is that there is lots of room for getting to some kind of TRUTH about WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT in a movie while also, you know, making a goddamned movie that people might actually want to watch. It’s one thing to leave an ending somewhat vague and open to interpretation, just like how life is often vague and open to interpretation, but it’s another thing (a terrible thing) entirely to show someone stuck in traffic for 45 minutes in real time. There was an interview with David O’Russell on Fresh Air recently where he was talking about The Fighter and he said something to this effect, about how it’s not enough to just make a movie about interesting characters, that the desire for story demands that something of importance actually be happening to those people to make them worth watching. I think you can take that in a lot of different directions, but for the most part I think this is correct. It’s like Bonnie Raitt said, “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About.” (She was talking about Madea’s Big Happy Family.)
What’s particularly weird and terrible about Sofia Coppola’s movie Somewhere is that it falls into a lot of these problems (lack of compelling narrative arc, very very boring) but it doesn’t depict anything even remotely resembling anyone’s real life anywhere ever. It is, to quote someone I overheard at a screening of Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool when I was in college, “the most mega-bullshit movie I’ve ever seen.” (When I overheard this, whoever was sitting next to the guy that said it turned to him and said “SHUT UP, STEVE, YOU’RE UPSETTING MOM!”) Way to go, Steve, but you make a good point.
Somewhere is about Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a famous actor who lives in the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. The end. I mean, practically? So, he has a new movie out that he has to do some publicity for and he doesn’t seem to be THAT into doing publicity but he also doesn’t seem to mind it that much. It’s part of his job and he seems to understand that. There are certainly other things he’d rather be doing, like playing Guitar Hero with Chris Pontius from Jackass or fucking every woman he sees (except personal-pan strippers, who make him fall asleep), but if you think about it, he actually seems to have plenty of time to do both of those things within the framework of his publicity schedule. Like, at no point does it seem like his publicity schedule is getting IN THE WAY of hit hang out seshes or his fuck seshes. Then he falls down some stairs and breaks his arm. No big deal! He just has a broken arm now. You can still do plenty of publicity, fucking, and Guitar Heroing with a broken arm it turns out, so in case you thought the broken arm was going to be one of the central sources of dramatic conflict, think again.
The central source of dramatic conflict–and I am using the term “dramatic conflict” as loosely as it has ever been used with the possible exception of someone claiming that they were watching paint dramatically conflict itself dry–is when
Vinnie Chase’s Johnny Marco’s daughter, Chloe (Elle Fanning) comes to live with him at the hotel. They go to Italy together? And eat grilled cheese or something? I don’t think she sits quietly in a chair while he fucks everything that moves, but she might. It’s hard to tell. One morning she is very grouchy over her cafe au lait served from a silver samovar into fine China, so I guess that’s pretty intense. Johnny Drama Marco has to take care of Chloe until it is time for her to go to summer camp, which is about three weeks. They have a good time. She goes to camp. He gets in a helicopter. There are about three hours of footage of him driving his car.
Now, a story about an absentee father who is suddenly forced into caring about his child is a totally reasonable thing to make a movie about. There is plenty that is interesting and dramatic and emotionally honest about that. Theoretically. Not here! As soon as Chloe arrives everything…stays exactly the same. They get along great. She goes with him on his press junkets or whatever. There is that one morning when she is grumpy over coffee, but she gets over it very quickly on the private jet back home. All in all, they are very sweet to each other and seem to have a very loving relationship with no real signs of distress over his abandonment of his fatherly duties. It is basically a long episode of Entourage and Chloe is the weed. You know how sometimes on Entourage you’re worried that they won’t get more weed in time to smoke weed but then they totally get the weed with time to spare? It’s like that, but, you know, a child. They even go to fucking LAS VEGAS for heaven’s sake. Entourage all over the place. Anti-stakes.
The emotional climax of the movie comes when
And you KNOW your movie has problems when Chris Pontius plays himself and steals every scene that he is in.
The fundamental problem is that I think this is what Sofia Coppola thinks life is like. And maybe it is, for her. She has a very famous dad and she used to be married to Spike Jonze and there is also champagne named after. THERE IS CHAMPAGNE NAMED AFTER HER. It’s not her fault that she thinks everyone lives in a hotel. I would even go so far as to say that one movie about people living in a hotel as an expression of this unusual and completely unrelatable life experience could be interesting or worthwhile, she already made that, it was called Lost in Translation, and it was mediocre. (If you consider modern celebrities to be American Royalty and then trace it backwards to Actual Royalty, then you could also argue that Marie Antoinette was basically a movie about a girl living in a very nice hotel). Enough already, Sofia Coppola. Only boring people get bored (not actually true), but only boring rich people think that movies about bored rich people aren’t boring (think about it).
Eat the rich! If we can’t turn their lives into compelling cinema then at the very least we can turn them into delicious fuel!