This 2010 film is only Sofia Coppola’s fourth feature, following 2006’s Marie Antoinette. That film was a big budget costume drama…this is very much the opposite. In fact it feels like a student film.
The story, such as it is, revolves around a rising film star named Johnny Marco, played by Stephen Dorff. Marco begins the film falling down a flight of stairs while partying at the infamous Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles and breaking his arm. As it turns out, he lives at the hotel, where he spends most of his time drinking, shagging women and being bored. Not even a set of twins pole dancing in his bedroom while he recuperates manages to keep him entertained. He falls asleep.
When he’s not doing interviews and publicity for his most recent film, he hangs out with his buddy Sammy (Chris Pontius) or his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) or just drives around LA.
Coppola does a few interesting things with the film. To give it a documentary feel, she inserts scenes that, in most films would lead to something to drive the plot forward, but because there is not much of a plot here, they just seem to happen for no reason. For instance, an attractive woman smiles at Johnny while pulled up next to him at a traffic light. She zooms ahead and he follows. It’s a scene that’s been played out in dozens of films, but here, Johnny literally runs up against an iron gate and he simply turns around and gives up the chase.
As we watch Johnny being treated like royalty wherever he goes and women throwing themselves at him, he seems to become more and more depressed, at one point we find him sobbing alone in his room.
But ultimately, the film itself goes nowhere. Ok, we get it. Johnny has everything, yet he is still unfulfilled somehow. But Sofia is betting that the audience is as fascinated by the Hollywood lifestyle as she seems to be. Well, I’m not.
The performances are very good, there are a few interesting moments throughout the film, but ultimately it feels as empty as Johnny Marco does.