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:: Somewhere

As a director of several insightful films in her young career, Sofia Coppola continues her examination of loneliness and isolation among the rich and famous in her latest offering Somewhere. After a mixed reception for the eccentric period romp Marie Antoinette, she spends most of this film retreating to the hotel rooms that defined her signature feature Lost In Translation. The talented Stephen Dorff finally gets a crack at a big role as a jaded mega-star confined to room 59 of Hollywood's Chateau Marmont hotel. It's a beautifully shot and strongly acted film but it probably lacks that spark to escalate it to the real top drawer of films.

Dorff's character is Johnny Marco. He drives a turbo-charged black sports car, hires pole dancers (Shannon twins) to bop to rock music, drifts from one conquest to the next - occasionally falling asleep before even getting started - and shares awkward encounters with other celebrities (e.g. Benicio Del Toro as himself). He's a blue-collar type who appears to have found fame quickly and doesn't know what to do with his time. Junkets, press conferences and photocalls punctuate his stay at Chateau Marmont until his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) arrives for an extended visit.

Johnny is forced to adjust his lifestyle to accommodate Cleo; they head off on an Italian press trip together, jam on Guitar Hero and form some semblance of a family with Johnny's childhood pal Sammy (Chris Pontius) regularly around. This elevates the film because of the charm of young Cleo. The father/daughter bond at Somewhere's core provides an emotional backbone, although it's Cleo who appears to be the senior force in this particular dynamic - cooking for her dad and frowning disappointingly at one of his stay-over friends. Johnny is unsure how to be a father, but he recognises that Cleo is his sole meaningful relationship. He has all the money and fame in the world, yet is still chronically unhappy.

Dorff and Fanning are excellent. This is a very different role for Stephen Dorff, who we are used to seeing in films as a much more villainous character. His character here is much more real. He is identifiable and vulnerable. The script of the film is not filled with much dialogue, leaving the actors to communicate much with their physicality. Dorff seems to be able to pull this off with a certain weary charisma. Elle Fanning possesses an air of fledging maturity, but occasionally unleashes a burst of willowy, girlish enthusiasm that is endearing.

Sofia Coppola's story is a bit too slight for its own good. She seeks the keen sense of place and mood that was apparent in Lost In Translation, but in Somewhere she is minimalist. Sofia will inevitably have her films compared to it.

“Somewhere” desperately wants to tell a story - one of a lost father and the daughter that reminds him that he's more than just an icon; one of the ultimate emptiness of hard living. The foundation is there but there is too much dead space and too little movement. With this one, it feels like she is reaching to places she can't quite achieve through purely visual expression. I look forward to Sofia Coppola exploring more intimate portraits and believe that, as she gains more experience; she will challenge the viewer with greater substance.