It’s hard to give a shit about the rich. The beautiful and the damned don’t stir much sympathy. All the angst of moneyed loneliness seems… slight, when compared to poor and ugly people who feel lonely. Pity should be reserved for people the world shuts out, not those who shun the world’s embrace. Sofia Coppola’s new movie, Somewhere, is about the sadness of having everything. Luckily, it’s not as bad as you might think.
At the Chateau Marmont—an opulent hotel with an edgy reputation—we meet a famous actor (Stephen Dorff) who is feeling isolated. He spends his days by the pool, or watching pole dancers perform for him in his hotel room. He receives anonymous text messages telling him he’s an asshole. He drives his fast car, in circles, on a deserted race track. And he tries, fitfully, to be father, though there’s a sense in which he thinks his daughter is too good for him. She, fortunately, loves her dad. And together, they are charming.
As the dissolute dad, Dorff looks like a men’s fragrance advertisement. He’s got so many stomach muscles. His tattoos are winningly rebellious. His looks devil-may-care when he smokes. Even though he’s a scarcely-articulate douchebag with the intellectual life of a palm tree, you still want to hang out with him.
Elle Fanning has been in showbiz since an agent cut her umbilical cord (she had her first major screen credit at age two), so it really is a stretch for her to play a non-actor. She’s innocent as a lily in Somewhere, and she easily presents the strongest argument as to why anyone should care about Dorff's character. Her role is to be authentic; a real person in a morass of phonies. Thankfully, she isn’t given the kind of precocious wisdom children are often endowed with in this kind of movie. Instead, Fanning gets to play a girl who seems entirely normal, who doesn’t see her uncertain future or how painful adolescence is going to be.
The photographer Helmut Newton died, age eighty-three, when the Cadillac he was driving crashed into a wall outside the Chateau Marmont. After a lifetime celebrating excess, even his death seemed glamorous. Not many octogenarians die in this way. The fact that Somewhere is set in the cloistered walls of a celebrity retreat, and not in a mall in Boise, Idaho, is because Coppola knows depression is easier to look at when it’s dressed in pearls. Her movie is elegant and perceptive. But poor people have it worse.