You can tell what kind of movie Somewhere is going to be right from the very first scene: A Ferrari races around a not-very-long track, though we only see a portion of the oval. Once, twice, three times - and, finally, after the fourth lap, the car stops within camera range and the driver, actor Stephen Dorff, gets out and then he...
What? Not a lot. He stands there. Then suddenly we're back at his hotel, Los Angeles' fabled Chateau Marmont. He's hanging with his friends, drinking - until he trips on some stairs and falls out of the frame. When we see him next, he's zoned out on his hotel-room bed, with a pair of rented pole dancers. Twins, no less.
Other things happen in Somewhere, the second seriously Antonioni-esque film of this year (The American was the other) and one that is bound to divide viewers dramatically. The rap on this film is actually true: This is a film in which very little happens and very little is said. It starts with Dorff - as movie star Johnny Marco - driving his car and ends with him walking away from his car into an uncertain future.
It is the kind of movie that normally drives me crazy - one in which nothing (or very little) happens. And yet write-director Sofia Coppola grabbed me from that first scene - so obviously a challenge to an audience, so deliberate in its attack on expectations.
What we get are the interstices in Johnny Marco's life - what happen when he isn't busy being Johnny Marco the movie star and has to figure out just who the offscreen Johnny is. We see him lounging in his hotel room with friends, drinking and blankly hanging out. In that opening sequence, he's lying on the bed in his bedroom, seemingly zoned on painkillers, his arm in a cast, while those twin dancers (coyly clothed) do synchronized pole-dancing routines on portable poles. He watches, giving the faintest hint of a smile but no other reaction (until he invites the women into his bed).
He has to take part in a press junket and photo sessions for his latest movie - and a brief encounter with his costar, played by Michelle Monaghan, reveals just what kind of disconnect informs most relationships in his life. He barely has stock answers for the questions, looking bemused at the things people want to know about him (and like he's not sure who he is to be answering such questions in the first place).
His one real bit of connection is with his pre-teen daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning). She's obviously been an afterthought in his life but he also obviously loves her when he's with her. He just doesn't know how to do it. Still, having spent a day with her, he seems eager to spend more - and winds up whisking her away to a press junket for the film in Venice and back again.
Johnny is a lost soul whose blankness translates as depth on a movie screen, apparently. But he's obviously in some sort of existential crisis - trapped in downtime between films, uncertain who he is, who he was or who he should be. He escapes into drink and drugs and sex - but he knows that those will not save him from waking up and still being Johnny Marco.
Follow Marshall Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hollywoodnfine