Thursday 13 January 2011


“Who is Johnny Marco?”
In a way, Stephen Dorff’s character in „Somewhere“ is under constant examination, is questioned, things are demanded of him, and he masters these situations not necessarily by providing an actual insight into who he might be, or even into who he might have chosen to present himself as, but by avoiding them with a vague smile that hints both at his unwillingness and his inability to answer. As an actor, he is whoever others want him to be; in his private life, on the constant outlook for paparazzi who might take a picture of his car, of his precious daughter, he is nothing at all. Half of this movie, or at least it feels this way, is spent with him on a couch, drinking, playing games. The other half is his character not really connecting to other characters and situations, so as to make the rare moments of true emotional outreach even more relevant. He takes his daughter (Elle Fanning) to Italy, but is alienated both by the press conferences (in which ambitious European journalists question him about the depiction of globalization in his action movies) and an award show which – through his eyes – might as well be rooted in a completely different culture he doesn’t understand at all.
He only perceives his life as meaningful when he is with his daughter, even though the closest he comes to articulating this thought is towards the end of the movie, when he is already alone again: “I’m fucking nothing. Not even a person” (the advice he gets is a cynical ““Why don’t you try volunteering or something.”)
Without her, he cooks pathetic meals, he enjoys repetitive things that seem to provoke no true emotional reaction at all (Somewhere brilliantly juxtaposes the strangely lulling routine of two strippers with his daughter’s ice-dancing which truly amazes him once he really pays attention). He just fell into acting; when someone aspiring to be an actor asks him how he might go about to start a career, his answer is elusive; it seems like he just fell into it without much preparation, and his job doesn’t give his life meaning. Johnny Marco’s life has slipped away from him while he didn’t pay attention, even though his audience (and, by extension, we, the audience of the movie) project our own feelings and thoughts into him. 

In a year full of strong female performances in sometimes not so brilliant movies, I realized that I pay less attention to what actors achieve. Stephen Dorff carries this movie on his back, he is in almost every shot, and as Johnny Marco is strangely inarticulate about himself, the movie relies on his facial expressions and the way he carries himself through social situations to get closer to him. Sofia Coppola has achieved the same kind of miracle in “Lost in Translation” – capturing a character not with a traditional plot, or a feasible self-narrative, but by closely examining a face and how a character connects to other characters, or fails to do so. It doesn’t necessarily take a strange city to feel estranged.

2010, directed by Sofia Coppola, featuring Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Chris Pontius, Lala Sloatman, Amanda Anka, Ellie Kemper.

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