For my money, Sofia Coppola's 2003 Lost in Translation was such an unblinking masterpiece -- one of the two or three best films of its entire decade -- that it's a shock to witness the near-worthlessness of Somewhere. In a general sense, both films are similar, focusing on a Hollywood superstar who combats his loneliness by spending time with a younger woman.
But whereas Lost in Translation managed to be both personal and universal at the same time, Somewhere feels like the desperate last act of a filmmaker who was at a loss for her next project and decided to simply film some navel-gazing ruminations that will mean little to anyone aside from herself. A typically somnambular Stephen Dorff is cast as Johnny Marco, an A-list actor who passes endless amounts of (screen) time driving his Ferrari in circles, watching strippers pole-dance in his hotel room and fielding idiotic questions from journalists on a film junket.
One day, his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (one-note Elle Fanning) from his failed marriage turns up, and he attempts to get to know her; the pair end up spending endless amounts of (screen) time skating, playing Guitar Hero, and knocking back over a dozen Jagerbombs apiece. Oh, wait, scratch that last one -- that's what my fiancee and I each had to do to make it through this endurance test passing itself off as a motion picture. Frankly, I've seen more "motion" in a taxidermy display.
An Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor, the Mexican import Biutiful has much in common with writer-director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's previous film. Like Babel, it takes some interesting ideas and belabors them for well over two fidgety hours.
In a typically compelling performance, Javier Bardem stars as Uxbal, a Barcelona resident who decides to put his affairs in order once he learns that he's dying of cancer. A conscientious man who nevertheless provides Chinese sweatshop owners with illegal workers, Uxbal has to deal with his unstable, adulterous and alcoholic wife (Maricel Alvarez), their two young kids, and -- shades of Hereafter -- the ability to communicate with the dearly departed.
That's more than enough fodder to fill a screenplay, and I don't begrudge Inarritu his burning desire to consistently make cynical movies that wallow in the mire (he also directed 21 Grams and Amores Perros, both better than either Babel or Biutiful). But he and co-scripters Armando Bo and Nicolas Giacobone pile on the grim incidents by also following the (mis)fortunes of several supporting characters who detract from Uxbal's ordeal. It doesn't make the movie far-reaching or well-rounded; it just makes it bloated.