In Somewhere, Stephen Dorff leads the vacuous life of a movie star: nothing to do, nowhere to go, nobody to see.
As actor Johnny Marco, Dorff plays a high-profile nomad. He lives at a hotel (the Chateau Marmont, of course) and appears to have no friends. Bored twin call-girls turn up from time to time to perform lacklustre pole dances in his room; an unseen assistant phones him when there's a press conference or a film opening he must attend.
Otherwise, his daily life and work appear to consist of drinking just a little too much all day long and fielding offers from the women who throw themselves at him. He doesn't seem particularly enthusiastic about it, either.
Into this general fuzzy ennui comes Cleo (Elle Fanning), Johnny's 11-year-old daughter. Accomplished, sweet and energetic, Cleo is the opposite of everything else in Johnny's life. She knows how to skate, to cook, to play games. She has an emotional life, she can carry on a conversation and she doesn't let her dad get away with any bad behaviour. She's generally a breath of fresh air.
Everything about Cleo is light and beautiful and innocent, a total contrast to just about everybody else in Johnny's life. In her company, he begins to rediscover himself.
The problem with trying to describe Somewhere is that it sounds familiar (dissolute star toes the line for cute kid!) but it's not. The story is calm and subtle and it speaks volumes about parents and children, and the characters are completely engaging.
Sofia Coppola, who wrote and directed Somewhere, has said that motherhood helped inspire the film. It seems fair to assume that working in Hollywood was also an inspiration, as Somewhere is jammed with funny little digs at the film industry and its inhabitants. From Dorff's need to stand on a box for a publicity shot, to the idiotic questions at a press conference and on to a manic and absurd awards show in Italy, Somewhere is cruelly funny about fame.
Those who love the Oscar-winning Coppola's movies -- Lost in Translation, Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette -- are likely to love this one, too, but Somewhere is not going to thrill everyone. It's slow, and some of the ideas, such as an opening moment that has Johnny going around in circles, literally, seem sort of obvious. Good thing note-perfect performances from all involved tend to offset those negative aspects.