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Originally published Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 3:01 PM

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Movie review

'Somewhere': A visit to Sofia Coppola's dreamy, wistful world

A review of "Somewhere," another drifty, moody and compelling character drama directed by Sofia Coppola ("Lost in Translation," "The Virgin Suicides").

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Somewhere,' with Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Chris Pontius. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola. 98 minutes. Rated R for sexual content, nudity and language. Harvard Exit.

Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere" is a mood piece rather than a drama; little happens, and what does happen is captured in long takes in which you become aware of the passing of time. Coppola is a still-young filmmaker with a unique style, and her dreamy, wistful movies about isolation and ennui ("The Virgin Suicides," "Lost in Translation") aren't for everyone. And yet, there's something mesmerizing and special about "Somewhere," for those willing to wait and let the movie cast its spell.

Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a movie star, famous enough that he spends his days doing publicity ("That was awesome!" chirps a publicist, as Johnny poses indifferently for a camera) and his nights watching pole dancers in his hotel suite. He lives at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, a historic and pleasantly tatty Hollywood haven where the showbiz newspaper Variety is posted in the elevator, and where he comes home to parties in his room full of people he may or may not know. This free-floating existence — and the movie's mood of disinterested decadence — changes, about 15 minutes in, with the abrupt arrival of a sweetly smiling face and a voice saying, "Hi, Daddy." It's Johnny's 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), whose mother needs to stash her somewhere for a while, and just like that, he becomes a party of two.

Fanning, like her sister Dakota, is one of those remarkable child actors who radiates ease on camera; you get no sense that this little girl rehearsed or thought about her lines, but simply that she is Cleo, a sunny child who enjoys taking care of her father (she confidently orders up groceries through room service to cook him meals in the suite's kitchen), showing off her skills at ballet and ice skating, and talking about the "Twilight" books. We follow the two through hamburger dinners in the lobby, a trip to Italy for a press junket, an afternoon spent idle by the pool, and learn that Johnny is different when he's with his daughter — more relaxed, less bored — and that Cleo's sunshine hides some deep-rooted fears.

That's pretty much it for "Somewhere": two actors, creating moments together. But Dorff and Fanning are so honest and charming that it feels like enough. And the hotel itself emerges as a character, with its faded lobby sofas and its staff who seem born to their jobs. You start thinking, caught in the film's mood, about who's behind the other hotel-room doors, and what stories they have. "Somewhere" ends on a vague, floaty note of hope — a life changing, perhaps; a move from somewhere to somewhere else — before it all wafts away. Interesting, though, how a movie so ephemeral nonetheless stays with its viewer, like a slow-to-fade perfume.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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