Imagine it: One day you wake up and realize you’re Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter. You tried acting once, but it was weird and everyone hated you for it. Growing up, you liked to listen to shoegaze and make out with boys with strong last names who gave you mixed tapes. You’re drawn to pretty things and sad things—in your mind, the two are inextricably linked. So what do you do when you grow up? You can’t make movies. Everyone will judge you so harshly because of your lineage. Wait, maybe you can make a movie. OK, fine, just do it. Sure. OK.
Even though Sofia Coppola has been making movies for a relatively short time, she’s already managed to make an indelible mark on the filmmaking world. Her meandering odes to alienated rich people have made her a critic’s darling, even earning her an Oscar for Best Screenplay for Lost In Translation. It was an interesting win—it was only her second film and it had sparse dialogue—but such is the nature of Sofia Coppola’s career. She paints a beautiful picture, has her actors make pensive expressions, sets it to a New Order song and voila! We have a masterpiece!
Although somewhat infuriating, her success isn’t so hard to understand. She’s gorgeous in a warm, expensive way. She pals around with Stella McCartney, gets featured in Marc Jacobs campaigns and dates indie rockers. She’s like a very rich, powerful hipster with a camera. We like her and we love her taste in music.
My opinion of Sofia Coppola has always been ambivalent though. In her films, she often orchestrates a powerful and introspective moment, only to drown it in something like a Strokes song. I, like many others, love the song choice, so I’m initially happy but then I leave the theatre feeling cheated and unsatisfied, thinking, “Why didn’t she give us just a little bit more?” After watching her latest film, Somewhere, I am convinced she has lost her damn mind. So let’s go back to the beginning and try to figure out what made Coppola make such a stinker.
The Virgin Suicides (AKA The One About The Five Beautiful Sisters Who Are Super Sad For Some Vague Reason)
This was my favorite. It set the stage for what was to become all of her trademarks: amazing music, stunning visuals, themes of isolation and burgeoning sexuality. Even though the film is told from the limited perspective of the neighborhood boys, you get enough insight into the world of the Lisbon sisters to feel fulfilled. Also, Josh Harnett as high school heartthrob Trip Fontaine brings some much-needed humor into the film. After all, you can only take so many shots of people looking bummed. Comparatively, Trip felt so… alive. Actually, in the end, he kind of was the only one alive. Spoiler!
Lost In Translation (AKA The One Where Tokyo Is Making People Feel Sad)
I saw this only once but I liked it enough. Anna Faris was hilarious as a ditzy Cameron Diaz-esque movie star and Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson were sort of like a hipper version of Harold and Maude. This was the movie that people really went crazy over but I still preferred The Virgin Suicides. Great soundtrack though…
Marie Antoinette (The One That Was A Period Piece But Not Really And Involved A Lot Of Cake And Champagne And Shoes)
You can only really watch Marie Antoinette on mute and/or under the influence of painkillers. Otherwise, it’s just two hours of Kirsten Dunst speaking (sparingly) in a Valley girl accent and looking depressed. Coppola captures the isolation Marie Antoinette felt living in Versailles by making the viewers feel isolated and bored themselves. There were so many shots of her drinking champagne and shopping but not much else. It became apparent that Coppola’s style isn’t suited for a biopic-a film that involves going deep into the psyche of the subject- because she is so deliberately distant and removed. She seemed more interested in capturing the grandeur of Versailles and creating lush costumes than actual character development. But like I said, if you watch it high, it can be pretty okay. Don’t you think Marie Antoinette was kind of the ultimate white girl problem though?
Somewhere (AKA The One That Wants To Be About Something But Is Really About Nothing)
Watching Somewhere was a cruel exercise in patience. It felt like watching a parody of a Sofia Coppola film because her weaknesses as a filmmaker were amplified, creating an indulgent pretentious two hour movie about the pitfalls of celebrity. In Coppola’s world, a five minute shot of Stephen Dorff smoking a cigarette in his hotel room has meaning somewhere…somehow. The relationship between Dorff’s character and his 11 year old daughter (Elle Fanning) is supposed to also mean something but we’re not sure what. The two barely speak to each other but they do exchange tender looks from time to time. What’s perhaps more mystifying than the film itself is the fact that critics are going apeshit over it. It’s moments like these when I start to doubt myself and think I may have missed something. But I honestly think that would be impossible because nothing happened. The movie didn’t move-it stayed in the same place collecting dust and pissing me off.
Looking back on her four films, it’s easy to see a devolution in her work. The Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation were not the most plot heavy of films but they were different and captivating. With Marie Antoinette and Somewhere, Coppola has just indulged her every whim and made two films that are dull and lifeless. I only fear what her next project will be. Maybe Mary-Kate Olsen staring into a mirror in her gorgeous apartment for two hours? You laugh now but the concept doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Coppola seems to have given up on the idea of writing dialogue entirely so we’ll see what her future brings.