The bur­den of fame

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ISome­where, drama, rated R, Re­gal DeVargas, 2.5 chiles Sofia Cop­pola grew up in a bub­ble of Hol­ly­wood roy­alty, and ap­par­ently it still hurts. You think it’s fun be­ing a celebrity? Let me tell you some­thing. It sucks be­ing a celebrity! All that money, all that fame, all that adu­la­tion. Gall, bit­ter worm­wood, the taste of ashes in the mouth. The com­mon folk don’t know how good they have it.

In Cop­pola’s lat­est riff on this theme (see Lost in Trans­la­tion and Marie An­toinette for other treat­ments of the iso­lated celebrity), Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a fa­mous ac­tor who is liv­ing, for rea­sons un­ex­plained, at Hol­ly­wood’s no­to­ri­ous Chateau Mar­mont, a haunt of stars that is “touched with scan­dal and com­mem­o­rated in lit­er­a­ture,” ac­cord­ing to a provoca­tive quote from the Los An­ge­les Times. We are never sure what kind of movie star he is. He seems to have plenty of money, al­though not enough to buy any de­cent clothes or a ra­zor blade that will shave any closer than a quar­ter inch from his chin, where his stub­ble re­mains un­changed over the cou­ple of months or so that this movie cov­ers. He’s rec­og­nized in pub­lic, but not mobbed, and at a party in his ho­tel room he is lonely in the crowd, mostly ig­nored by the C-list partiers. We never see him on a set, and the only script we hear de­scribed is a cheesy vam­pire story.

But when he goes to Rome to pick up an award, he gets a po­lice es­cort from the air­port to the ho­tel where he is in­stalled in a lux­ury suite with a swim­ming pool.

And the women! Beau­ti­ful women flash their breasts at him, simper at him in ho­tel lob­bies, and hop into his bed with lit­tle or no in­vi­ta­tion. He doesn’t seem to get any plea­sure out of it, and once he even falls asleep in mid-fore­play. In this he is a strik­ing con­trast to the char­ac­ter who must have been on Cop­pola’s mind when she cre­ated and named him. Johnny Marco is the An­gli­ciza­tion of Don Juan de Marco, the lover played so win­ningly by Johnny Depp in the 1994 ro­man­tic com­edy that was pro­duced by her fa­ther, Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola.

The fa­ther-daugh­ter stuff is no doubt drawn from Cop­pola’s ex­pe­ri­ence with her own fa­mous dad, whether or not it’s ac­cu­rate in the tawdry de­tails, such as Johnny’s bring­ing a lover into their Ro­man ho­tel suite af­ter Cleo has fallen asleep and let­ting the woman stay for break­fast. Their bond is the strong­est thing in the movie, and it is not hard to be­lieve that the Cop­pola re­la­tion­ship was sim­i­larly fraught with ado­ra­tion and dis­ap­point­ment when Sofia was a lit­tle girl grow­ing up.

There are a few mo­ments in this movie that brush away the lethargy and the self-pity and give you hope for this di­rec­tor’s vi­sion. One is a visit to a makeup stu­dio, where Johnny has a mold done of his face. The tech­ni­cians sit him in a bar­ber chair and cover his head com­pletely with a white sil­i­cone rub­ber paste, leav­ing only two holes at his nostrils. He’s left alone, and the cam­era holds. As a sym­bol for the blank empti­ness of his life, it’s riv­et­ing. And when the mold comes off and the mask is made, Johnny can see him­self as a with­ered old man.

An­other nice touch comes when Johnny and Cleo re­turn to the Mar­mont from Rome, and an old ho­tel clerk named Ro­mulo gets his gui­tar and sings them the Elvis song “Teddy Bear” in the lobby. The cred­its list him as Ro­mulo Laki, and you’d guess he’s a real fix­ture of the Chateau Mar­mont.

The movie opens with Johnny driv­ing his black BMW at high speeds around a cir­cu­lar track, and you don’t need me to un­lock the sym­bol­ism there. At the end, alone once more (Cleo has been he­li­coptered off to camp), he is again driv­ing the beamer, this time in a straight line, but with no clearer sense of des­ti­na­tion.

Some­where has charmed many crit­ics with its min­i­mal­ist qual­i­ties and its re­flec­tions on the empti­ness of celebrity life (“I’m a #&@* no­body,” Johnny sobs in a fit of self-loathing, “I’m not even a per­son!”). They ad­mire its un­apolo­getic re­jec­tion of plot, drama, and con­ti­nu­ity. Through­out much of the movie Johnny gets scathing text mes­sages from an anony­mous sender, which are never ex­plained and even­tu­ally stop. What are they? Mes­sages from his con­science? The voice of God? Or ex­cerpts of re­views from an­other planet?

The French In­va­sion: the hero of The Il­lu­sion­ist

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