[Screen It]

(2010) (Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning) (R)

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Drama: A Hollywood actor begins to reassess his pampered but otherwise boring life when he spends more time with his mature 11-year-old daughter.
Johnny Marco (STEPHEN DORFF) is a Hollywood actor, not on the A-list, but still big enough that he gets the royal treatment at press junkets and can afford to drive a Ferrari. Yet, his life, while certainly pampered, doesn't really do anything for him anymore, be that hanging out with his friend, Sammy (CHRIS PONTIUS), or hiring some private strippers to entertain himself.

Things start to change when he ends up spending more time with his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (ELLE FANNING). She spends most of her life with her mom, but with the latter needing more time for herself, the mature for her age girl now ends up with her dad, both at his rented Hollywood hotel "home" and abroad, such as in Italy where work sends him and thus her.

With her tagging along, Johnny starts to reassess his life.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I have no idea if people -- and especially parents -- still use the following comparative phrase, but when I was growing up, famous people were compared to regular folk with the saying that they put on their pants one leg at a time just like everyone else. The gist, of course, is that while rich tycoons, world leaders, professional athletes, recording artists and TV or movie stars might have more money and perks than everyone else, they're still human.

All of which means they have the same or similar desires, fears and issues as the rest of us, and that money and/or fame don't necessarily or automatically ensure that the needs are met and the problems diverted or otherwise handled. All of that's explored, albeit at a glacial pace and with obvious symbolism in "Somewhere."

The offering marks writer/director Sofia Coppola's fourth film and is clearly something of a companion piece to "Lost in Translation," her far superior sophomore outing from 2003. Like that pic, this one features a famous Hollywood actor (Stephen Dorff) who's dissatisfied with his personal life. He's not so much outwardly unhappy but instead is bored and pretty much numb in his existence.

This is symbolized by the opening sequence that features him driving round and round a track in his shiny Ferrari. Sports car enthusiasts may be disappointed in the footage, however, as there's no view from inside or alongside the car as it displays its horsepower or nimbleness. Instead, Coppola has opted to use a locked down shot showing the car from a distance, occasionally entering and then exiting the framing.

It's all a metaphor for the actor's life -- going nowhere in fancy trappings -- and it goes on for minutes without any camera movement or dialogue. Some viewers and many critics might be entranced by the filmmaking choice in that opening and then similarly elsewhere in the film. For yours truly, a little of that goes a long way and such footage ends up with the potential for sending many a viewer into a peaceful sleep.

In fact, and if not for some scenes featuring exotic dancers doing private pole performances for the star or the presence of Chris Pontius (playing the actor's friend) making one expect him to break into some sort of wild "Jackass" stunt or outrageous exhibitionism, the film could be a replacement for any sort of insomnia medication.

Granted, it's a welcome respite from many of today's filmmakers who think their films aren't complete without a gazillion quick edits or other visual shenanigans that often cover up storytelling shortcomings. If anything, Coppola has crafted a very European style picture, meaning it's in no particular hurry to move things forward.

It also has somewhat of a documentary feel -- especially without much dialogue early on in the proceedings -- as we follow the actor around in his life and observe it going nowhere. The intent is to make the viewer feel what he's feeling and experience his life through his eyes. For the most part, that works. While some will tire of that approach, it eventually wiggled its way into my psyche, which also holds true for Dorff's minimalistic performance, his best in some time.

Even better is Elle Fanning (Dakota's younger sister) who plays the performer's 11-year-old daughter. Like her sibling, Elle is quite a young actress and the film comes alive -- as does Dorff's character -- when she appears on the screen. Cleo -- who splits time between her parents -- is designed as a wake-up call for the actor as he ends up having to spend more time with her, both in his "home," the Chateau Marmont, and when traveling abroad for film promotions.

The two performers have a terrific chemistry together, even if their characters as written fall into the usual arrangement of her nearly being more of the parent figure while he impulsively takes advantage of fame's trappings and thus somewhat comes off as the child figure. Even so, they feel like the real deal and that goes a long way in terms of viewer engagement.

I just wish the pacing had been stepped up a bit or at least certain scenes trimmed down to some degree. While some will view the various metaphors as brilliant (such as the actor having to sit for a long time with a gooey mask mold on his face, all alone, only to later see the result of that time slipping by: a view of himself as an old man), I imagine many will get the point long before any given use of that wraps up its time on the screen.

Good but not great, "Somewhere" is an interesting if slow and not particularly novel look at how the famous are different from but also quite similar to the rest of us. The film rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed November 18, 2010 / Posted December 31, 2010

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