July 21, 2011

Justify My Netflix: Somewhere

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)


Today's movie: Somewhere, 2010 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this is the latest by Sofia Coppola, and I'll watch pretty much anything Sofia Coppola does, even while acknowledging that the results are notoriously hit-and-miss.

The reality: Wow. You know, it's funny, now that Coppola has four mainstream films under her belt (and I've seen them all), it's easy to see certain themes and elements that keep popping up again and again, although the results themselves from title to title can vary wildly; there's the insane success of Lost in Translation, the flawed experiment known as Marie Antoinette, the earnest but overly stylistic early film The Virgin Suicides, and then this newest, which now that I've seen it I think is one of her biggest successes yet, although the film itself was met mostly with shrugs and angry yawns when it came out last year. And that's a shame, because at its heart this is an incredibly moving if not very simple story, which is really about any divorced dad in his forties, and not just the Stephen-Dorff-type Hollywood star followed here (played unsurprisingly by Stephen Dorff), with him shacked up in a generic roadside hotel while between homes just like any other transitional dad, but in this case that hotel just happening to be Hollywood's famous Chateau Marmont, which is where the vast majority of this film was actually shot.

Ultimately Coppola tells a story here that will move many people, and that many middle-aged males will be able to profoundly relate to: that even if your solitary life seems fine if not a bit routine while being used to the solitude, with the emergence of a preteen child for an extended period of time (in this case because of the mom having a bit of a nervous breakdown while the daughter is on her away visitation), going back to the solitary life after they leave now just seems pathetic and depressing, a situation that can trigger a crisis in many middle-aged people who aren't used to being alone. I think maybe what threw a lot of people off, then, is that like all her movies, Coppola tells this story not really through dialogue so much but through lots of strong, subtle visual cues; and so by necessity this requires a much slower pace than is normal for Hollywood films, an almost European sensibility and dedication to small moments, a technique that pays big emotional dividends if you commit yourself fully to the entire run-time, but that quickly gets tedious if you're just sort of half paying attention like so many of us now when we watch movies. (And make no mistake, I cried and cried during several moments of this film like a weepy little f-cking girl.) A much more successful and memorable film than either critics or audiences let on back when it was in theaters, I highly encourage you to pick this up now that it's on DVD, a great sign of the mature, masterful artist that Sofia Coppola is rapidly turning out to be, now that she's officially in her forties herself.

Strangest piece of trivia: Many of the particulars in this film are based on real-life incidents from Coppola's actual childhood -- including being dropped off at summer camp in a helicopter, ordering every flavor of gelato through room service one night, and swimming in a bathtub the size of a small pool in a luxury Italian hotel suite -- although she claims that the plot itself is in no way autobiographical at all.

Worth your time? Absolutely

Filed by Jason Pettus at 4:40 PM, July 21, 2011. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |