Bottomed Out

'Somewhere' asks viewers to care about someone they have no reason to care about

A self-indulgent film about a self-indulgent character, Sofia Coppola's Somewhere introduces us to a movie star in turmoil. While his career gives off the appearance of a man who has it all together, in reality, his personal life has completely bottomed out.

Coppola has directed four films; two of them have the same premise.

Indeed, Somewhere looks very much like a weaker version of Lost in Translation, Coppola's breakthrough sophomore effort about an actor who goes through the motions when the cameras are rolling, but can't keep his real life afloat. Surface similarities aside, Translation is also a deeper, more mature, more fully fleshed-out presentation of the same material. Somewhere, by comparison, feels like a rough draft.

Assuming the role of Bill Murray is Stephen Dorff, who has not shown a great deal to applaud over the years. But he zeroes in here and does fine work as Johnny Marco; we gather he's an action star on one side or the other of his zenith. He's probably waning and not waxing, but it's actually hard to tell, as if Coppola's purposely making some kind of statement about the careers of action stars by not revealing all that much.

Johnny is a star, though; that much is immediately clear. He drives a Ferrari and is staying at Chateau Marmont, one of the most famous hotshot haunts in Hollywood. And he parties a lot. Though there's no evident drug use in the film, Johnny does drink himself into oblivion regularly, and he prefers the company of blonde strippers.

He shares custody of his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), but he is almost certainly in no condition to be anyone's guardian, even his own. Though the relationship between Johnny and Cleo is obviously different than that between Bob and Charlotte in Lost in Translation, those relationships are the fulcrum in each film, and in Somewhere, it's intended to be the sobering influence on a life that has stalled.

Unlike in Translation, though, there's nothing at all complex or even very emotional about the journey here, not in the way it unfolds nor the lives it affects nor Coppola's direction. There are long passages in which nothing happens, and while they may serve to show the audience a glimpse inside the spoiled actor's life, the film is so completely devoid of forward momentum that even more wasted time is the last thing Somewhere needs.

By fixing her gaze on the mundane, perhaps Coppola is taking inspiration from Jim Jarmusch, the minimalist director whose recent films include Broken Flowers and The Limits of Control. This is a failed experiment for a director who has showcased expression over the years. Her debut, The Virgin Suicides, is a terrific, incredibly assured take on Jeffrey Eugenides' novel, and Marie Antoinette, while messy, was at least colorful. This film is just boring.

Dorff, for his part, portrays Johnny Marco as a man who, on the one hand, can't believe his own luck; he has very little appreciable talent and even acknowledges that he never studied acting at all. On the other hand, Marco can't believe his own luck; for all that he's accomplished, he's a terribly lonely guy who has a distant relationship with his daughter and who can't buy happiness, no matter how hard or often he tries. To Dorff's credit, all of that comes through, and he is thoroughly believable.

Elle Fanning is the younger sister of Dakota, so preternatural talent may just run in the family. Though she may not be able to pull off the high-wire acts her sister can execute blindfolded (by the same age, Dakota had stolen Man on Fire from Denzel Washington and I Am Sam from Sean Penn), she might be the more empathetic actor. By Coppola's admission, some scenes in the film were improvised, and young Fanning still looks locked in, feeling her way through each encounter like a seasoned professional.

The failure of Somewhere rests with Coppola. So little is displayed, and even less is written, about why in the world anyone should give a rip about Johnny Marco. Maybe he's always been a selfish user and a heavy drinker, or maybe he's a victim of his own circumstances. We'll never know, and even if it were the second, more heartrending option, exactly how much crying are we expected to do for the fate of a lazy actor who has blown every chance he's been given?

What is it Coppola wants us to feel? If she knows, she isn't telling.