Somewhere Out There I Write a Letter to Sofia Coppola

Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning share some nice moments in Sofia Coppola's SOMEWHERE.

Somewhere out there a great film awaits Sofia Coppola.  In some parallel universe she’s directing a masterpiece.  But not here.  Not yet.

Somewhere is a film that just is what it is…which is a film about nothing.  Even in interviews, the oft-maligned auteur admits in no uncertain terms that the film is really about nothing.  It’s just about the mood…the moment.  And like all of Sofia Coppola’s films, it grows on you as it languidly progresses.  You get used to the cadence and the ennui, the repetitive imagery, the sometimes uncomfortably sustained shots (oh, imagine what she could do with neo-noir or psychological horror) that ultimately signify the vapid nature of isolating stardom and luxury.  And when the bored movie star (Stephen Dorff, scruffy but agreeable) is temporarily interrupted from his nothingness by his bright and mostly cheery young daughter (Elle Fanning), you get a muted fuzzy feeling, melancholy somewhat, and little bits of humor, embarrassment and do-nothingness fun contribute to a glazed, dreamy atmosphere where you like what you see, you get the feeling, and the mood is alright, baby.  But there’s nothing there.

Which brings me to this…which I touched on in some recent exchanges at Jason Marshall’s excellent Movies over Matter blog and have decided to elaborate on here:

Sofia! Stop writing your own scripts! I know, in the brutal irony of the biz, you won an Oscar for your writing…but you are a natural-born director.  With your screenplays you are stuck going around in circles just like your main character’s Ferrari in the opening shot of your new film.  In the end, he’s driving in a straight line seemingly getting as far away from Hollywood as he can.  I hope that is symbolic of you doing the same thing.  I remain an optimist, and I hope that was your little wink to your audience that you are about to go down uncharted paths. 

Maybe Somewhere was the film you needed to make before moving on.  I understand…you touched on it a bit in the thinly veiled Lost in Translation (which I still love despite so much backlash) and explored it through the lens of a lavish period-piece in Marie Antoinette (which was unfairly dismissed), but you needed to fully purge it from your system.  You finally reached the depths of which you could dive exploring the theme of the boredom of the elite (especially spoiled little girls with daddy issues) and at the bottom of that ocean of your own internal emotional turmoil…you found nothing.  Hell, it wasn’t even really turmoil, was it?  It was what it was.  Now let’s go do something.

Hey, people like to knock you and write off your career to nepotism, but any cineaste can see you have the natural chops.  You just need to expand your horizons.  Had Somewhere been made by a French filmmaker, it would’ve been universally lauded.  And I love how you don’t even care about the nepotism charges by choosing your husband’s band Phoenix to do the score for your film.  Go on, you have great taste in music, and keeping it in the family is fine as long as the talent is there to back it up.  You know how to use music in films, and your sound design grows more intriguing with each film and is now verging on Lynchian.  Keep stretching the boundaries there.

Why don’t you collaborate with your old pal Quentin Tarantino?  Let him write a script…for a heist film perhaps.  And you direct it.  Imagine – his snappy dialogue…your penchant for letting a camera linger too long being used not to express ennui this time, but to build tension.  And you can collaborate on the music choices.  Take a few for-hire genre jobs and knock them out of the park.  Use your connections to work and collaborate with the best people, not just those in your family.  But, yes, you can help them out, too – I’m not contradicting what I said in the previous paragraph.  I’m just sayin’ – there’s more out there…and YOU KNOW PEOPLE.  USE THEM.

Sofia, you know how to make movies.  You grew up in the business.  You know nothing else.  But that doesn’t mean your films have to be about nothing.  We don’t need more somewhere…we need more something.  Go out and find it.

Surprise us. 

Surprise yourself.


David H. Schleicher


  1. Let’s rank Sofia’s films!

    Lost in Translation – 9/10 – Though with each view it remains enjoyable, it does seem to grow less substantial over time which is why I knocked this down a peg from my past appraisal.

    Marie Antoinette – 8/10 – I like the spoiled F-you nature of her choices here. It worked for me, though I realize and understand why it didn’t for most.

    The Virgin Suicides – 8/10 (maybe) – This really has been begging for a rewatch. I remember digging it when I first saw it…but I haven’t seen it since under the scope of her career arc.

    Somewhere – 7/10

  2. after 7 films can we keep still calling sofia an auteur?

    Dianne – I use that term for anybody young or old who has a distinct style and can be considered the “author” of their film. -DHS

  3. I can’t agree more with the two points you state here : this girl needs to get out of her comfort zone – but I think Somewhere was the starting point of this process. (think of what was The Darjeeling Limited to Wes Anderson, and then put out the great Fantastic Mr Fox)

    Do you read French ? I kinda wish you would.

    Maxim, I hope you are right! Though I would argue there was nothing great about The Fantastic Mr. Fox, it was a HUGE improvement from the abysmal Darjeeling Limited. I am working on my French – I can read better than I write or speak. –DHS

  4. Hahahahahahahaha David!!!!

    What a great idea! And expertly executed.

    As it is I am completely with you on the esteemed Ms. Coppola. Difference is I have taken a step further with SOMEWHERE! I have steadfastly avoided seeing it, which for me is an extreme occurance, as I am liberal and see everything and anything. I can certainly envision all the dire observations that you pose in your letter to Ms. Coppola, and I smiled from ear to ear as I read this witty piece! Still though, you indicate it’s a 7/10, and you generally have given the director reasonably good grades. This is the first time I will balk at rating her films, though, let me see, maybe I can do it even with the failure to see SOMEWHERE so far. BTW, the “exchange” at Jason’s place was most excellent indeed!

    Lost in Translation 2/10
    Marie Antoinette 4/10
    The Virgin Suicides 7/10

    I saw LOST IN TRANSLATION four times in the theatre to try and exorcise me of my eveil spirites after the film had garned all those spectacular reviews. But nothing worked, and this hopelessly pretentious film was all style and no substance, one of the cinema’s most boring films of all-time.

    Sam, LMAO! I knew I could count on you on being exceptionally cruel to my dear Sofia (though I do see you found her first film fair enough). I’m surprised you didn’t even find something to cling to in Lost in Translation with regards to the travel-log aspect of the film. I found her take on Tokyo entrancing, but I always knew you were no fan of the film, and you are not alone in your feelings.

    I’ve always regarded Sofia Coppola as the most promising of the post-Tarantino set (which I would say includes Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze and to some extent Michel Gondry). There are all very insular, repetitive and twee, but her treatment of film aesthetics is more classical whereas the others are pure kitsch…and as such, she has always had the most room to expand beyond her self-absorbed themes whereas the others are trapped by their form. The way she shoots films, her mise-en-scene…it could translate across genres and tell different stories, whereas the others are in their own self-inflicted kingdoms of nothingness trying to recapture the glories of their one successful movie. –DHS

  5. Well I see you finally wrote that letter to Sofia you wanted to write. Hopefully this will change the trajectory of her career because, as we talked about over on my site (thanks for the generous shout out), I agree that she is a talented filmmaker. I just wish she had something to say.

    I can’t really speak to her filmography. I haven’t seen “Lost in Translation” or “The Virgin Suicides” in a long time and don’t remember my reactions all that well, and I never saw “Marie Antoinette.” I remember liking “Lost in Translation” well enough, but I don’t think I much liked “The Virgin Suicides.”

    Jason, I’d like to read your take on Marie Antoinette if you ever get around to seeing it. –DHS

  6. Hi David,

    I haven’t had the chance to watch Somewhere and I don’t remember being too impressed with The Virgin Suicides. Having said that, I loved Lost in Translation.

    Don’t you think that there lies “something” in her “nothingness”? A movie that speaks about “nothing” is a difficult feat to achieve. It can get repetitive if one holds on to this moody, nothingness style, yet this is what Sofia stands for and can probably do “nothing” else. I doubt she’ll be successful if she pairs up with buddy Tarantino; his pace/style is way too fast for Sofia to do justice to his pulp form of film-making; for all you know it might be a disaster.

    Like you rightly said, a similar film in French would be widely lauded. So maybe she deserves a different audience and she definitely should expand her horizons, but not with style, but with depth and substance. She should extend her “nothingness” beyond just moody portrayals and take it to higher levels. Maybe something like what Wong Kar Wai or even Alejandro González do with their films. And even then if she fails, then maybe and just maybe she should try something entirely different. For in the end like they say, “I do nothing, but I do it well”. And Sofia knows this better than anyone else.

    Prakash – you make a lot of good points here. She might just do that. Only time will tell. –DHS

  7. I must admit I am somewhat disappointed to learn that Somewhere just doesn’t make the cut. I, too, was hopeful for another good one from Sofia! Love your letter to her!…and the Tarantino suggestion…YES!!

    Thanks for the review. I may still netflix it…but at least I know have a fair warning! Have a great week!

    It’s worth a Netflix. –DHS

  8. I loved somewhere and it definitely isn’t about nothing! Its about so much! The most talented directors are the ones that can portray emotions, feeling, a lifestyle with actions not words. With everyday subtlety not cliché hollywood style that majority of cinema goers are all so used to.

    Somewhere is a beautiful piece of cinema. I love films that show a glimpse of someones life. Not the beginning of it with some big conflict that then gets resolved with an explosive ending. That is far easier to do than what Coppola has beautifully achieved with Somewhere. Many of you mention she should go out of her comfort zone..

    I think each of her films are quite different however she stays true to her elements and style that she loves, that are what define her as an artist, that is the reason we are all here commenting.

    I’m shocked to see you think her career isn’t progressing! Obviously all you people who feel you know her work well enough to be commenting such statements should actually go watch (or re-watch) her work. She is producing far more original work than majority of other directors at the moment. Don’t analyse her films, get lost in them 🙂

    Hayley, I’m glad to see Sofia has some fans! I stand by my statements. I think she is a great talent and a true auteur…but I see her career as stagnant right now, though you make some interesting points. I still like the idea of Somewhere being a necessary stepping stone for her to move on. I look forward to what she does next. –DHS

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