Sophia Coppola's detractors have long labeled her a dilettante, a lightweight and an unworthy heir to her father's genius, with a smidgen of raw talent but nothing much of importance to say. And if you were to view the callow, navel-gazing Somewhere as the only evidence, you might be inclined to agree with the haters.
This is a film that doesn't just laze around and drift, but bobs gently like a good-looking corpse floating face-down in a luxurious heated swimming pool. Ostensibly plot free, Somewhere is a last-days-of-Rome-style Hollywood debauch, ladled over with bittersweet family drama tensions and several tablespoons of heavy ennui. Stephen Dorff plays Johnny, a leading man with a better career than Dorff himself, loaded with fame and money and fancy toys, but with very little sense of self. He's holed himself up in the ever-raucous Chateau Marmont on Sunset, a swank, enchanted castle where celebs can indulge in all the boozing, whoring and self-indulgence they crave, with the added benefit of turndown service and mints on the pillow. There's a limit to how many strippers and Ferraris a guy can take, however, and Johnny starts searching for answers, while attempting to portray a parent for his tween daughter Cleo, smartly played by the coltish Elle Fanning.
Wow, so showbiz is a drag, and you need the grounding of real relationships to stay sane? Imagine that. And is there anyone really still troubled about the alienation of the wealthy and famous, especially after the director covered the same ground more affectively in Lost in Translation?
Where Coppola's Marie Anoinette was a clever film about shallow people that was mistaken for shallow itself, Somewhere is a movie about equally empty shells, but with about as much depth as a bellybutton.
The acting is sensitive and sure, but the direction feels aimless, with long pointless takes that veer into artfully mannered Vincent Gallo territory. Coppola has the curious ability to make you second-guess your own instincts; you may be confident that you're suffering through an exercise in tedium, and then she'll frame a cool shot, or move her camera in a brilliant way that makes you think you're seeing something tacitly profound. But it's all a mirage here, a truly appealing and lush illusion that has enticed some of my critical brethren, who found substance and art, where there was only uncertain self-pity. That's the dirty secret about being paid for your opinion; it comes with a sinking fear that eventually you'll be proven wrong.
Opens Friday, Jan. 14 at the Landmark Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.