Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere starts off unlikeable, but those who persist will be rewarded with a moving examination of the importance of our relationships.
Should we care about the problems faced by those living our dreams? It can feel insulting at times to see someone who’s making millions doing exactly what a younger version of yourself had wished you’d be doing one day, turn around and complain that they too have problems and they also get sad, just like me and you. Is it fair for us to want to dismiss that? The first thirty minutes of Somewhere are filled to the brim with this kind of energy, showing us Johnny Marco, a rich, famous actor (Stephen Dorff) spending his days in a constant state of melancholy after his recent divorce. He hires girls in tight outfits (Kristina and Karissa Shannon) to perform pole-dances for him, but for seemingly no reason at all beyond it being a mild distraction from the constant sense of depression that plagues him everyday.
Fair to say that I watched about 30 minutes of this and just felt a bit confused. Not by what I was seeing, but rather I was dumbfounded by why exactly I was seeing it. In a world overflowing with genuinely important problems that need to be highlighted, why should time be spent on this one? Yes, obviously rich and successful actors can also be sad and lonely, no-one is disputing that, but they have access to help. Add on top of that the fact that Sofia Coppola’s film felt like it wasn’t giving me anything other than just “rich man feels sad”, and well, I was starting to feel frustrated beyond belief.
Then, about halfway through, there’s a shift. Elle Fanning comes into the mix, portraying Marco’s daughter, and with her, the film reveals its true hand. Her unexpected visit is the catalyst that Johnny needs to feel something again, and with every additional second they spend together, you feel the mood of the film change slightly. It becomes less and less about the perils of a rich superstar and more about the positive effect that other people can unknowingly have on our mental health, an idea that I honestly think is quite beautiful. It’s a reminder to make sure you check in on those around you, because no matter how well it may seem like they’re doing, you never really know for certain.
Now, I’m still not entirely sure that Coppola chose the right subject for this idea. You can absolutely understand her thinking to a point – is there any section of humanity we’d naturally assume are struggling less than successful male actors? It slightly comes across that Coppola didn’t perhaps have the biggest faith in her idea being successfully conveyed to the audience, as the dialogue can sometimes carry the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but perhaps that’s for the best when you’re telling a story that could be easily interpreted as another rich person screaming at a sea of people worse off than them that, actually, they also have it hard.
How she handles the structure of the story is incredibly admirable in just how brave it is – drawing us into a potentially unlikeable world before slowly revealing something more tender and sweet hiding underneath. Elle Fanning plays a humongous part in this, almost weaponizing her wide-eyed innocence that helps make her the perfect person to comfort and cheer up a lonely soul. Everyone needs their own Elle Fanning, someone who can one day appear on their doorstep out of the blue and have this much of a profound effect on their mental health. As I watched her relationship with her father blossom, my mind drifted back to all of the times someone’s done something similar for me, appearing at a time when they were desperately needed, even though they had absolutely no idea.
Part of me feels like Somewhere requires another watch. One where I can go in knowing what the point of it all is, specifically so that I don’t spend that first 30 minutes getting more and more irritated, because once they get going, those last 2 acts are among the most moving and gentle you’ll find in a modern drama. With that being said though, whilst I appreciate what she’s trying to do with the setting, I just wish that we were focusing on someone who wasn’t already so successful and living so many people’s dreams. Coming from the girl whose father made The Godfather, it just can’t help but have the underlying feeling of a rich person wanting everyone to know how much they suffer too, no matter how good the intentions of the film are.
Somewhere is now available to watch on digital and on demand.