Somewhere: Sofia Coppola's Sexist Agenda

She's been the darling of Sundance and is the offspring of cinematic royalty, but Sofia Coppola's latest efforts is a sexist ode to a lost childhood...
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She's been the darling of Sundance and is the offspring of cinematic royalty, but Sofia Coppola's latest efforts is a sexist ode to a lost childhood...

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As you squirm and drool along with Michael Douglas in that famous scene in Basic Instinct where Sharon Stone keeps crossing and uncrossing her legs to offer him glimpses of her knickerless crotch, you are probably not overly concerned with political correctness.  Yet Basic Instinct became  a cause celebre that exposed the cruel and lascivious eye of director Paul Verhoeven, until then something of a darling of right-thinking folk.  No doubt Verhoeven was crying all the way to the bank. Sofia Coppola, a darling of right-thinking folk, would probably have the same reaction to being charged with sexism in her film, Somewhere.  But as critic Adam Mars-Jones said of  Basic Instinct, the film is two hours of gender libel.

Steven Dorff plays Johnny Marco, a  movie star who passes the time driving his black Ferrari around an empty racetrack or tailgating women in convertibles through the streets of Los Angeles.  When he's not doing that he likes to order up a pair of pole-dancing identical twins to perform for him alone in his suite  at the Chateau Marmont.

Predictably, the blurb on the DVD tells us that Johnny is living the dream, though Coppola does everything she can to flag up that when you're  as dimwitted as Johnny, being a star in a chic hotel  (his suite was once occupied by Bono)  is as much a rut of dreary schmuckdom as being a garage mechanic in  New Jersey.

Who, we can't help asking, is Johnny? We learn nothing about his work except that he spends hours in special effects with his face smothered in gunk, poses for cheesy photo shoots and has never bothered with method acting.

Sofia Coppola, a darling of right-thinking folk, would probably have the same reaction to being charged with sexism in her film, Somewhere.  But as critic Adam Mars-Jones said of  Basic Instinct, the film is two hours of gender libel.

Shagability and enough rude health to shake off a hangover when his agent calls  (his relationship to her is like a functioning marriage)  are the qualities that have made Johnny famous enough to get a police escort through Milan and the keys to the city handed over by fawning politicians.

Is he Keanu Reeves?  Vin Diesel?  Maybe he's  Steven Dorff.  Like the Chelsea in New York or the Mamounia Marrakesh, Chateau Marmont ranks high among the arty Somewheres of the world, and if you're somewhere you must be somebody, right?  But Johnny Marco is  a nobody who got lucky.  Where's Johnny?  Coppola asks, then, losing interest in her own question, answers with a shrug.  He's somewhere, who cares? Johnny is anybody, anywhere.  He's you, schmucko, after you got lucky and ditched your dumb job but not your dumb brain.

But wait, there's a twist. The blurb tells us that Johnny's meaningless life is transformed when his ex sends their eleven year old daughter, Cleo, to live with him. Supposedly this is the ex's way of making a man of  Johnny, though her own declared reason for abandoning the child is the classic plea of the immature male - she needs to get away and might not be back.

Given the pain her action causes the child, it seems that  Cleo's mum resents Cleo as much as she resents Johnny.  The cruelty of sending Cleo away is worth it as long as it spoils Johnny's fun.   Is his ex also behind the anonymous texts saying things like 'Why are you such an asshole?' and 'What is fucking wrong with you?  that Johnny receives and deletes in the blink of an eye?  With little evidence that Johnny is not a fucking asshole these messages from the ether come to represent some sort of cosmic truth.

Parenthood hardly dents his numbness. Cleo turns into a miniature version of her sidelined mother, sitting down to breakfast with Johnny's  one-night stands while they jabber into their phones.  If Johnny is unchanged, his ex's behaviour seems calculated to shape their daughter  into a young woman who despises men before she has even known one.

Observing her dad's antics,  Cleo is much more grown up than Johnny, who hardly notices her until he sees her figure skating alone on an ice rink.  Suddenly  Johnny is watching his pubescent daughter in the same way he watches the pole dancers.  Cleo is beautiful, but she has to be performing a provocative dance  for  her father before he can see it.

Working out that Somewhere is Sofia Coppola's act of revenge voyeurism on her own father isn't exactly rocket science.  She has stated that the  hotel-room situations are taken from her  memories of travelling with Francis.  Watching useless Johnny as he watches Cleo, Coppola puts unscrupulous male desire in the frame without having to deal with the complication that an unhealthy gaze can also be the gaze of genius.

Working out that Somewhere is Sofia Coppola's act of revenge voyeurism on her own father isn't exactly rocket science.

Somewhere is not, as critics have claimed, a male perspective.  Any man could explain himself better than Sofia explains Johnny Marco, even Johnny Marco could do it better.  Coppola's enquiry into his motivations and behaviour has no real intention of providing answers but to expose the intractable mystery of men, then shrug at it. Get out of the Marmont, thicko, it seems to say.  They should never have let you in here in the first place.  Now everybody's had you and nobody wants to talk to you.  You're boring us.

The box-office friendly decision to make her schmuck into a movie-star  denies him the escape that is available to real schmucks.  If you're a jerk and a garage mechanic you might well think the general shittiness of your life made it worth the effort of reform.  Johnny's wealth and fame, without giving him an excuse to go on doing what he does, provide a strong indication that he probably will.

That's Sofia's bleak message.  The film's happy ending must have been tacked on at the insistence of the blurb-writers. Having driven his Ferrari on one more hell-for-leather ride to nowhere, Johnny stops by the side of a desert highway, gets out and walks away with a smile on his face.  Even the  Coppola-friendly  Guardian critic described it as one of the daftest thing he ever saw.  But there is nothing daft about using a cliché of male cinema to ridicule the idiocy of male solutions.

Lets hope Johnny  turns around and heads back to town like  Rabbit Angstrom when he realised the futility of Kerouac-like taking to the road in John Updike's novel, Rabbit Run

John Updike.  Now there's someone who was lashed in his day with accusations of gender libel.  Let's have a show of hands – who does the other side better:  Updike on women or Sofia Coppola on men?

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