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      Somewhere Review

      Somewhere poster


      Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

      Many, including writer-director Sofia Coppola herself, have noted that Coppola's "Lost in Translation," "Marie Antoinette" and now "Somewhere" take place in either literal or (in the case of Versailles) metaphoric hotels, magnets for ennui as well as possibility. In a hotel, as Vicki Baum wrote in her novel "Grand Hotel," nothing ever happens but everything happens in spite of all that nothing.

      So it is with "Somewhere," a small but, in its way, daring picture set largely within the confines of the Chateau Marmont just above Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. This is a starry hotel with a wonderfully narcissistic web site, whose homepage describes the Marmont as "the set of a film waiting for someone to call action."

      Or: Inaction! "Somewhere" has just enough incident to hold itself together and no more. Coppola's film -- about an even-tempered 11-year-old and her occasional father, and the time they spend together -- is not interested in thesis statements or head-on crises. We are eavesdropping between the lines and in the margins here, hanging out with a successful action star, played by Stephen Dorff, who spends his time and money at the Marmont, his current residence, prior to the promotional duties attached to his latest paycheck, a thriller called "Berlin Agenda."

      For a while Coppola observes this character, named Johnny Marco, mostly in isolation, often drinking and smoking. He's alone even when he's in the proximity of rent-a-strippers, who come to his hotel room with their own portable poles and whose jewelry clanks against the metal poles in a slyly funny way. Into this easygoing, somewhat forlorn decadence comes a naif. It is Johnny's daughter, Cleo (played by the very fine Elle Fanning), whose mother (who has primary custody, by a mile) is having some problems. Abruptly, it is Johnny's turn to take care of the kid, before she heads off to summer camp. So they go ice-skating. They go to Italy for the Italian premiere of Johnny's movie. They do nothing in particular, albeit expensively. They get acquainted in a way Johnny hasn't made time for before.

      In a nod to maverick "loner" pictures of the late '60s and early '70s studio era, "Somewhere" begins with a shot of Johnny going in literal circles, somewhere in the countryside in his sports car, and ends with a figurative straight-line walk into the unknown. Dorff clearly relishes the chance to play this role, though he's more effective detailing the groggy, amiable side of Johnny, the one skating on the surface of his own life, than he is at suggesting what may be beneath that surface. Coppola, though, wants only so much overt conflict.

      Dorff and Fanning share the screen with two key co-stars. One is the hotel, which we get to know as well as Johnny knows it. The other is cinematographer Harris Savides, a true unsentimental artist. He's a genius with digital video ("Zodiac") but with "Somewhere," as with Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg," he proves himself a master with old-fashioned film stock. The way he captures the hazy, somewhat sinister sunlight of L.A., you can practically taste it. It's pretty but never in a postcard way. Coppola's film may frustrate some with its narrative concerns (i.e., not enough of them), but I found myself grateful that a filmmaker, the daughter of a famous director and a relative of many other famous and talented showbiz kids, could make a convincing case for this kind of inside-baseball story, both in the writing and in the leisurely, observant telling.

      MPAA rating: R (for sexual content, nudity and language).

      Running time: 1:38.

      Cast: Stephen Dorff (Johnny Marco); Elle Fanning (Cleo); Chris Pontius (Sammy).

      Credits: Written and directed by Sofia Coppola; produced by Coppola, G. Mac Brown and Roman Coppola. A Focus Features release.

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