Thursday, August 04, 2011

Some People Just Don't Know How to Quit While They're Ahead.

It's heartbreaking sometimes to watch someone overstay their welcome. I'm not talking about your in-laws or a friend visiting from out of town. I'm talking about Sofia Coppola.

When Coppola's newest movie, "Somewhere" was in theatres, I didn't bother. It wasn't because I didn't want to see it. I've liked, to some degree, each of her previous movies, and I wanted to see it, but I just chose to wait for DVD. That's just what I do these days. Last night, I rented "Somewhere" out of the red box and even at $1, I feel ripped off. I hated it for reasons I'll get to later. And I'm done with Sofia Coppola.

As a child, Coppola appeared in many of her father's films, most notably "The Godfather III", which is universally regarded as mediocre at best. Her role in that film earned her a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting actress. She was also "nominated" for this award in 1999 for her role in "The Phantom Menace"

Although she stopped acting, Sofia Coppola continued to ride the nepotism train and got into the production and direction side of film making. Her directorial debut was "The Virgin Suicides" in 1999, which was a brilliant success. It's my favorite film of hers, anyway. It was received warmly but not enthusiastically by the press, with every review carefully enumerating her family connections in the industry.

I thought that she should have been able to silence the critics with a genuinely good film. I've never read the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, but she obviously had some pretty good material to work with. Dark and heavy but fantastic. While it's certainly not a happy story, it's a well told story. And it's very good to look at. I can watch "The Virgin Suicides over and over without getting tired of it.

The next movie in the Sofia Coppola filmography actually comes third in the timeline. She took a really long time to write her screenplay for "Marie Antoinette", and during a break, she got "Lost in Translation" done from start to finish.

Like everything she's done since "Virgin Suicides", "Lost in Translation" is an original screenplay and has mostly to do with a well-known person having something of an identity crisis. It worked really well for a number of reasons. Bill Murray was outstanding in his role as the superstar actor in a strange land losing touch with his family. There's a brilliant soundtrack and the whole thing is visually stunning, but the meat of the movie is the slightly awkward but beautiful friendship that Bill Murray's character develops with Scarlett Johansson's character, who is also having a relationship crisis with her husband. To be completely honest, a good deal of the appeal of that movie is that Ms Johansson is hotter than twelve suns. I can also watch this movie any night of the week and not get bored.

One of the things that I love about "Lost in Translation" is the ambiguity at the end. We're left to decide for ourselves what Bill Murray whispers into Scarlett Johansson's ear. We're left to wonder and decided for ourselves what happens to each of their marriages, which are both in shambles. We're left to wonder if they'll ever see each other again.

After she finished "Lost in Translation", Coppola resumed her work on "Marie Antoinette". I heard about it well in advance of the release, and I looked forward to it quite a bit. It had a great soundtrack, and it was very nice to look at. The costumes were amazing, and it was filmed on location at The Palace of Versailles. Kristin Dunst is really easy on the eyes, so there's also that. Coppola's screenplay was based on Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser. I've never read Fraser's book or any other biography of Marie-Antoinette, but hers is said to be much more sympathetic. This approach carried over to Coppola's film. This, and her use of music from the 1980s and 90s upset a lot of people. I don't care that much about the historical accuracy; I just didn't love it the way I thought I would. Despite the music and despite Kristin Dunst's irresistibly pretty face. Although I didn't hate it, I haven't watched it again since seeing it in the theatre, and I haven't really had the urge.

I read some bad reviews of "Somewhere", but I still wanted to see it. I didn't learn much about the movie, but I figured that since it's a Sofia Coppola vehicle, it would have great music and it would be visually stunning. The truth of it is, I don't even remember the music. After watching it, I had to look it up on imdb to recall the songs. The very definition of unmemorable. As for the movie, I hated it. There are a lot of painfully long camera shots that linger too long or exist for no reason.

Right out of the gate, the very first shot in the movie serves no purpose. A stationary camera focused on what we assume to be a car race track or a proving grounds or something. A car comes in and out of frame, going around a turn, then back into frame after 10 seconds or so. This shot lasts about two minutes, ending with the car coming to a stop in screen. Completely superfluous. Throughout the movie, there are a few more times where a scene will end, but the camera shot holds for about three beats longer than it needs to. And not for any stylistic or dramatic purpose. Only to make the running time longer.
For the first 20 minutes of the movie, there's only about four lines of dialog. There's really not much dialog at all in the whole movie. While that may work for some movies, it doesn't here.

In the end, I just don't like it one bit. It could have and should have been a short film. 25 minutes. Movie-star dad lives a rock-star life and isn't much of a father to his pre-teen daughter. His estranged wife doesn't want to deal with the kid. Kid ends up on dad's doorstep and they spend some good time together. He questions his identity.

At the end, Coppola tries to put us in one of those moments like the one in "Lost in Translation". The thing is, when Stephen Dorff walks away from his car at the end, I don't care what's going on in his head. I don't care what's next. She didn't let us get to know the characters well enough to give a damn.

My whole point here is that Sofia Coppola should have left on a high note. She could have stopped after "Lost in Translation" and been well-remembered. Now she's jut some gal who made two good movies and two bad ones.

Of course this is just my opinion, but I know that I'm not alone in my dislike of "Somewhere".


Robert Ullman said...

It's funny...I feel like Cameron Crowe shoulda quit after "Almost Famous"...I love and cherish "Say Anything" and Singles", but I hated "Elizabethtown" so much that it almost made me retroactively dislike those earlier flicks.

d-lee said...

I really like Elizabethtown. I think I might not like We Bought a Zoo, but I'll see out in the theatre anyway. Also, Almost Famous is on my top three of all time