There's a Place for Us

By Walls, Seth Colter | Newsweek, January 17, 2011 | Go to article overview

There's a Place for Us


Walls, Seth Colter, Newsweek


Byline: Seth Colter Walls

Sofia Coppola's new movie, Somewhere, has the emotional arc of a Lifetime movie conceptualized to the nth degree. The story of a successful-but-absentee Hollywood father belatedly recognizing how to be present in his daughter's life is strung together with a maddening series of "man contemplating aloneness alone" sequences purloined from 1960s art-film director Michelangelo Antonioni. The one thing Coppola doesn't steal from Antonioni is his class awareness; there's never so much as a glimpse of the lives of, say, the maids in her "I'm rich and depressed in a hotel" movies. Perhaps Coppola's tight focus on a well-heeled daddy-daughter relationship is the point--the freedom not to feel mildly inquisitive about the wages of privilege feels timely in light of the extension of Bush 43's upper-bracket tax cuts. But as long as she was affirming the status quo, she might have thrown the audience some sort of narrative stimulus package as well.

Coppola's not the first U.S. filmmaker to adore Antonioni, but by using his tricks to try to build American-style pathos, she commits the same aesthetic foul as director Darren Aronofsky did with the narrow point of view and phantasmagoric metamorphosis in Black Swan. They both cram the dark syntax of European provocateurs into the sentence structure of the multiplex.

Somewhere's distant-seeming father figure is supposed to have difficulty connecting with a loved one, like the best of Antonioni's protagonists. And yet Hollywood--yes, even indie Hollywood--requires discernible character arcs. Without spoiling the film's conclusion, it's fair to say that Johnny Marco, the father played by Stephen Dorff, undergoes some behavior modification. But that evolution feels tacked on, and clearly runs against Somewhere's hard stillness, in which long takes of a car running round and round the track recall the studied alienation in European art-house flicks. …

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