"Somewhere" (2010) 4 / 5 stars - With all the apparent ease of picking up a random camera and flipping the “On” switch, writer/director Sofia Coppola follows around Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) - a hotshot party boy movie star with a 90's Luke Perry bravado - during a couple weeks of his life in Los Angeles.
Although Johnny's daily routines feel "routine" to him, he participates in a lavish world which millions of people can only dream about, and Coppola allows us to see.
Every girl wants to be with Johnny and every guy wants to be Johnny.
He drives a black Ferrari, hosts fun and hip parties, smokes too much, usually holds a drink, stays up late, sleeps long past 7am, and with one mischievous look in a beautiful woman’s direction will elicit a certain sexual encounter.
The backdrop for all of this fun is the Chateau Marmont, an older hotel with some personality and style, but it didn't take lessons in excess.
His room, #59, has a living room, separate bedroom, a balcony and a kitchen.
The walls are a mute white with some art in spots, as his “home” feels more functional than luxurious.
Don't be fooled.
The Chateau Marmont is a temporary destination for the famous.
You might bump into Benicio Del Toro on the elevator.
For Johnny, it is a place to take the occasional phone call - at 1pm in the afternoon - from his agent, because he might need to hop on a flight to Milan for an awards show.
On the other hand, he feels right at home playing Guitar Hero with his best friend (Chris Pontius from "Jackass" fame) or watching twin blondes - with short tennis outfits - dance like synchronized swimmers while he lays on his bed’s 1,000 count sheets.
Life is pretty easy, but it's also pretty shallow, lonely and empty.
Things seem to change, however, when his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning) enters the picture.
Cleo drops by the hotel for occasional day visits, and Johnny shuttles her to ice skating practice or takes her for a burger at a soda shop.
Although Johnny does show Cleo affection, she is also an inconvenience.
Johnny is not “Dad of the Year”.
Unfortunately for him, when Johnny's ex-wife or ex-girlfriend (I'm never clear which) drops Cleo on his hotel doorstep - on potentially a permanent basis, he needs to step up as Dad in a hurry.
Not unlike Coppola's other films, this story is not complex and it flows in a straight-forward and deliberate manner.
Unlike internal family conflicts I've seen in movies 10,000 times before, Coppola seems to always deliver something interesting.
She possesses a mysterious and inexplicable charm with her camera and pen.
In this case, Coppola creates a universe of extreme luxury.
When Cleo can't sleep and needs a snack, they order five different types of Gelato. On a road trip, they stop in Las Vegas for a quick game of craps or simply lounge at the pool.
In every instance Coppola holds or pans back the shot to give the scene time to breathe and I was grateful.
The small details felt important too.
Johnny seems to wear unkempt white t-shirts in almost every scene, but after days of quality time with his daughter, he wears black.
Sure, black isn't really a color, but at least it is a change.
He might be changing.
"Somewhere" is a simple, slow and methodical family drama with strong and completely believable performances.
It pulled me into a world which I am not familiar and raised empathy for a lost human being who - seemingly - has everything, during a couple of weeks of his life.
Indeed, Coppola takes us somewhere.
Follow me on Twitter: @MitchFilmCritic