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But the biggest point of departure may be Somewheres soundtrack. Marie Antoinette essentially plays out as a series of music videos set to period-imperfect source cues from Adam Ant and the Strokes. That sensibilityMTV-influenced, but personalhas long been a Sofia Coppola trademark, dating back to the montages set to Heart singles in Virgin Suicides. Somewhere is short on both music and montage. Its the first Sofia Coppola film that prizes natural, diegetic soundincluding music thats organically part of a scene, as in two sequences involving rent-a-strippersover an artfully chosen, hipster-baiting soundtrack.
I was getting kind of tired of movies that just have pop song after pop song as the scoreI did that before, Sofia says. I wanted to see how little we could use music. Some scenes are so quiet that sounds that otherwise would seem incidental almost boom on the soundtrack, as in a long take of Johnny in his hotel room, in which theres so little going on that the sound of his cigarette burning almost seems to echo.
I found sitting there smoking a cigarette with nothing [to say] one of the most challenging things, Dorff says. Because if Im acting for one second, the movies done.
Somewhere is a film that asks us to pay non-withering attention to the ennui of the beautiful, rich and famous, made by a woman who is beautiful, rich and second-generation famous. That alone is enough to inspire knee-jerk negative reactions. When Somewhere won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival in September, where it was in competition against such formidable contenders as Darren Aronofskys Black Swan and Kelly Reichardts Meeks Cutoff, some journalists cried foul at the fact that the jury for the prize included Quentin Tarantino, whom Coppola dated briefly after divorcing Jonze and before taking up with Mars. (For her part, Sofia jokes that she would have assumed her past relationship with Tarantino would be a handicap, not a help.) Some Somewhere critics complain that nothing happens in the movie; others suggest she should have gone further with the avant-garde inspirations, studio-subsidiary distributor be damned. Coppola also has been accused of treading familiar ground: the story of a man at a crisis point, who has a relationship with a female 25 years his juniorin a luxury hotel? Again?
Its fair to point to Somewheres resemblance to Lost in Translation, but the similarities between the films neednt be pejorative. Somewhere seems to systematically revisit certain scenes and elements of Translation, but approaches them with added distance, wisdom and grace. A press conference scene that existed to mock a brainless starlet in Translation has been refashioned in Somewhere to show sympathy for the celebrity. Both films deal with a very specific side effect of fame: the loneliness of being wanted by strangers and yet having no one to talk to. Translation leavens that loneliness with wry comedy and by offering its sad actor the hope of a quasi-romance. Theres very little comedy in Somewhere, and in the world it describes, romantic relationships dont exist; women offer Johnny only easy sex and angry texts. If Johnnys complicated relationship with his preteen daughter is a temporary comfort, its also a reminder of his inability to sustain a connection or make a commitment of any kind.
In both films, the big event is that the characters, self-obsessed and wound too tight, lose themselves in a moment that cant be sustained, but Translation and Somewhere milk ephemera for different emotional results. Lost in Translations Rorschach-blot conclusion may be ambiguous, but its undeniably exhilarating. At Somewheres equally enigmatic end, Johnny makes a Big, Symbolic, Potentially Life-Changing Gesture that could lead to positive changebut for the moment, more than ever, hes rootless and utterly alone. The parallels between the two films point to their key difference: Sofia Coppolas increasingly mature point of view.
With no permanent residence in L.A., Coppola and Mars and their kids have been living at the hotel while promoting Somewhere. Despite the hotels reputation, theyre not the odd domestic unit at the bacchanal; a fashion-industry friend of Sofias who also has a baby daughter has been living here with her own family for the past six months. Its been fun, Sofia says, with genuine enthusiasm, in full mom mode and apparently loving it.
But change is in the air. In a few days, Sofia and family will head up to Napa for Christmas. After that, shell start to think about her next project. In an echo of her films highly symbolic ending, she tells me shes just let go of one major tie to L.A. I had an old Jaguar, and I recently sold it, she says, wistfully. I love cars, and I miss that part of L.A., driving around. I had it for like 10 years, but it was just sitting in a garage. Is it a sign that shes decisively put Los Angeles in her rearview mirror, so to speak? If so, she isnt letting go completely. She smiles, almost conspiratorially.
I sold it to a friend.