By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 3, 2010 at 1:02AM
Write what you know. And Sofia Coppola knows Hollywood.
The last time I interviewed the writer-director, for Lost in Translation, we talked in the lobby of the Chateau Marmont, which plays a major role in her new movie, Somewhere, which world-premieres in Venice Friday night, its only fall-fest showing before Focus Features opens the film on December 24. (Paris-based Coppola just gave birth to her second child.) Coppola returns to the Venice Fest, which kicked off her most successful film to date, 2003's Lost in Translation, which won the Lina Mangiacapre award. The very European Somewhere is a good fit here; the Italian journos at the morning press screening got a kick out of an amusing sequence when bored movie star Johnny Marco (well-played by Stephen Dorff) flies his willowy 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) to a movie opening in Milan, where he orders them gelato in bed in their lavish suite at the Principe-Savoie Hotel--with its own indoor pool.
At the packed Venice press conference during a driving rain storm Friday, Coppola answered questions in her signature low-key, terse way. Coppola is an intuitive, visual filmmaker who uses words judiciously and sound expressively. In her films, a glance or a sharp intake of breath reveal more than any dialogue.
Coppola, 39, returns to writing her own material here, as she did with her much-lauded second film, Lost in Translation, starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, which scored screenwriting awards from the Golden Globes and the Oscars, not to mention Coppola's distinction as only the third woman (and the first American woman) to ever nab a best director Oscar nomination. How to top that?
Inevitably, Coppola followed up with a let-down at Sony, the $40-million, visually delectable costume-biopic Marie Antoinette, which earned mixed reviews and $16 million domestically; it totaled $61 million worldwide.
Coppola retreads familiar territory with Somewhere, which is a smaller-scale companion piece to Antoinette and Lost in Translation: Marco is yet another wealthy, pampered and sequestered celebrity who is trapped and bored. Languidly paced with many long static shots, Somewhere is a precisely-observed, often silent portrait of a depressed movie star who sits and stares blankly at the wall, beer and meds at hand, when his publicist or manager isn't telling him where to go or what to do. Marco knows how to be a movie star, he just doesn't know how to live a life. Women constantly offer themselves to him; a barrage of angry text messages tell him what a jerk he is.
The movie opens with Marco driving fast on a race track in his black Ferrari, round and round. He's utterly empty. On the night of his birthday, he falls down drunk on the hotel stairs and winds up with his wrist in a cast. "I do my own stunts," he lamely tells his ex-wife when she drops off Clio. He falls asleep when blonde nubile twins pole-dance for him in his room. But he is captivated by his innocent daughter's graceful pirhouettes on ice skates.
When his ex-wife dumps Cleo on him for a week, Marco comes to life. The Chateau Marmont staff caters and pampers him; Cleo can call room service at the Marmont to get anything she wants, like groceries for his kitchen to cook him a meal. He loves playing fantasy dad: he plays cards and Guitar Hero with her, takes her to Milan, and en route to summer camp, hires a helicopter to play craps in Vegas. What happens after she leaves is key. Significantly, we feel for this guy, who could be utterly obnoxious, but is in a lot of pain. He's a recent movie star, still adjusting, Dorff said at the press conference; the actor admits to understanding Marco's isolation away from a movie set. These are breakthrough roles for both Dorff and Fanning.
Witty, spare and gorgeously framed, Somewhere should play well for the young smart-house set.