A black Ferrari roars around a looped track in the middle of a barren desert as a stationary camera watches. This is the opening shot of Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere,” her fourth feature that is a quiet, reserved and deeply perceptive film about a father and his daughter. This opening shot prepares viewers for two things. First, to be patient because this shot resembles others to come that last longer than one would ordinarily assume; look beyond what’s immediately happening as there’s a lot going on within these shots. Second, the man driving the car, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), is a tired B-list movie actor whose life is idling by. Whether he’s an existentialist or just depressed is uncertain.
Much like Bill Murray’s character of “Lost in Translation,” Johnny is a man separated from his family due to his career. He sits bored in his hotel room within the Chateau Marmont where celebrities take refuge in Hollywood. Johnny bumps into Benicio del Toro on the elevator, but it hardly matters. He has lost all sense of pleasure because it comes so easily to him; one glance, and any woman is willing to sleep with him–he merely just falls asleep on top of them. Two early scenes show blond twins pole dancing an amateurish routine for Johnny while he lies in bed. It’s not so much turning him on as it is giving himself something more to stare at than just the wall.
The film is partly a wry comedy about the show-business world. Johnny spends his time at the Chateau smoking, drinking, meeting up with strangers all within the same sphere of celebrity and having nameless sex. Apart from this, he is occasionally woken up by phone calls from his publicist and whisked off to different events such as a photo shoot and press conference for his upcoming film. Johnny is no longer interested in any of this; he shows up to each event looking like he just woke up.
Johnny has an 11-year-old daughter named Cleo (Elle Fanning) who comes for a brief visit. She shows up again for a longer stay due to an undisclosed crisis in her mother’s life. Cleo and Johnny are wonderful together having fun and making each other laugh. A cumbersome trip to Italy for an eccentric award show turns into something enjoyable with Cleo’s presence. She mothers Johnny to a certain extent making eggs Benedict in the morning for him and his brother. She also observes him with a watchful and sometimes judgmental eye well knowing that her own father still hasn’t quite grown up yet.
Elle Fanning is heartbreaking, sweet and nimble conveying so much in her character while appearing to show so little, which is like the film itself. Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation,” “Marie Antoinette”) is an endlessly fascinating and talented director; she observes with grace and finds the smallest of details to bring out in each moment. “Somewhere” is a string of beautiful and poetic images. They arise from slow observational shots that unfold a sad and lonely story before our eyes. Coppola doesn’t play to our emotions but, rather, rewards us for paying close attention.