THE OPENING SHOT of Somewhere, the newest from Sofia Coppola, is a long, patient view of an expensive car circling a racetrack, sound rising and falling with each lap. The hypnotic shot serves both to calibrate the viewer to the pace of the film and to introduce the car as a central metaphor for its main character, Tommy (Stephen Dorff), a Hollywood A-lister whose outwardly glamorous life is on a cyclical, self-contained trajectory.
For Tommy, the pleasures of wealth have clearly become the stuff of routine—witness a scene in which two blonde twins do a pole-dance routine in his hotel room, while Tommy watches with polite interest (Coppola makes sure the viewer is attuned to the situation's awkwardness). But when he's abruptly charged with the care of his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (an impossibly sunny and natural Elle Fanning), Tommy slowly awakens to just how much he's been missing.
The Lost in Translation comparisons are unavoidable—not only does Coppola present yet another storyline in which a jaded actor finds new value in life with the help of a much younger woman, but there are scene-by-scene analogues: Tommy looking baffled on an Italian talk show, an underwater shot of Cleo and Tommy playing in the pool. Both films, too, are largely set in a hotel, where a hovering staff attends to practicalities and "doing the dishes" means setting them in the hall outside the door.
These easy similarities support the popular view that Coppola is limited by her station—a filmmaker born into Hollywood royalty, and only fit for chronicling the non-problems of the spoiled rich. But that's an unimaginative, ungenerous interpretation: With Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette, and now Somewhere, Coppola's demonstrated an exceptional knack for revealing the hollow side of celebrity, and within Somewhere's narrow scope, she offers an informed illustration of the adage that you can't buy happiness. Unfortunately, she isn't content to let this be the quiet lesson of Somewhere, instead opting to address Tommy's midlife crisis in the most trite metaphorical terms possible. Aside from its boilerplate ending, though, Somewhere is patient, sweet, and revealing—and a breakout role for Fanning, who single-handedly counters an entire film's worth of ennui.