Culture & Conversation

Shticking To The Tried And True

It was a strangely fitting mix-up that, off to see Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, I accidentally went to a French theatre (credit due to Google’s English movie listings for Le Quartier Latin). In fact it was a perfect mistake, providing another layer of alienation to a film obsessed with loneliness. So in fact I am actually reviewing Quelque Part. Sofia would approve.

Stephen Dorff plays Johnny, a Hollywood heartthrob caught up in an insipid life of sex and fame. He goes to raucous parties, ignores scathing text messages from unidentified women, and at one point passes out in a woman’s crotch. Elle Fanning, on the cusp of teenagehood, plays daughter Cleo, a combination of innocence and knowingness, not yet initiated into womanhood. She is dropped into Johnny’s care unexpectedly as he is going to promote his latest film in Italy.

An ardent defender of Lost in Translation, I have been wont to divide the world into those who get it and those who don’t. I went into Somewhere with sky-high hopes, a guaranteed recipe for disappointment. Sure enough, for all its nuance and subtlety, its thematic appeal – the public always loves a glimpse into celebrity life – something didn’t sit right.

Watch lively Italian caricatures banter onstage at an awards show as a baffled Dorff and Fanning look on. Observe a racecar circling a track for minutes on end. Sit through an eternity of Dorff breathing through a clay mask. Why? Oh yes. The painful contrast between living high and the mundane.

I can’t shake the feeling that Coppola has taken it too far. It’s gone beyond a stylistic and transformed into a shtick. She said it with Lost in Translation. She said it with Marie Antoinette. Present a telling reflection on the poor little rich girl (or person), and her method remains exactly the same.

It’s like a painfully recognizable shtick that we’re not supposed to notice. Transparent. Cringe-worthy.

Dorff sips a beer by himself at home; puts the beer down; fidgets with a miscellaneous object; takes another sip of beer. There goes another two minutes, and cut to the next vision of soulless existence.

We had the cathartic dreaminess of Jesus and Mary Chain leaving off Lost in Translation, now listen as Phoenix’s Love like a Sunset closes over the vista of the open road, “right where it starts and ends,” the singer croons. The closing scene and credits, of course, are left appropriately ambiguous.

The whole endeavour is formulaic. Manipulative. Predictable. If only we spent more time at home, strumming guitars and playing Wii with our sons and daughters, life would mean something; if we watched our children’s skating routines rather than text messaging through them; if we took the time to cook Eggs Benedict rather than speeding through pasta and tomato sauce.

But our poor lost protagonists are condemned to chase sex and fame. They are displaced in foreign countries and must plunder their wealth for whatever empty joy they can find.

I’m sorry Sofia. Lost in Translation will forever be a beloved favourite, the Virgin Suicides was an impressive debut, and Marie Antoinette was very good too. But quelque part along the way, the shtick got old.

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