The burden of fame
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?
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