There’s a word I keep coming back to regarding the work of Sofia Coppola: confident. You can see it in the perfectly ‘70s appropriate production design of The Virgin Suicides, or in the overall pulp fiction retelling of Marie Antoinette, or in the painstaking patience of Somewhere. No matter what the material dictates – time, place, mood, tone – there’s an overall confidence to everything Coppola does.
Those who collaborate with Coppola are often quick to point out how specific she is with her vision. She has an idea of how something is going to be, and she sticks to it, no matter what. It’s that sense of artistic dedication that shines through every one of her films. And it’s probably also why everytime I watch a Sofia Coppola film, I’m convinced that it is the best film she’s made. With every subsequent viewing, I somehow grow more fond of her work. I suppose her confidence is to thank for that.
Lick the Star is about four middle school girls who consider poisoning the boys in their school, just because. The girls are led by queen bee, Chloe, and, thankfully, realize how full of shit Chloe is before things get way out of hand. With an amusing cameo by Peter Bogdanovich, and purposefully over exposed photography by the great Lance Acord, Lick the Star is a simple tale of popularity turned cold. When you’re up, you’re up, when you’re down, you’re down. B-
The Virgin Suicides (1999)
The film tells the story of five young, blonde, beautiful sisters, and the boys in their Michigan neighborhood who are transfixed by them. When one of the sisters inexplicably commits suicide, the remaining siblings don’t react as you might expect, instead going about their lives business as usual. But that’s because they’re leading up to a horrific punch line that no one else is privy to.
As is the case with every Coppola film, the cast of The Virgin Suicides is on point. But special mention needs to be given to James Woods and Kathleen Turner, who play the grief stricken parents of the girls. Both Woods and Turner’s performances are expert examples of what insurmountable grief can do to a person. This movie truly is one of the most confident debut films I’ve ever seen. A-
Lost in Translation (2003)
So, yeah, I’m damn impressed by how Lost in Translation was made, and thankful that it created a path for similar indie films of its kind. As Bob Harris, a famous American actor literally lost with himself, Bill Murray has arguably never been better. He’s funny when he needs to be funny, but, perhaps more notably, tender when he needs to be tender, spiteful, confused, and so on. And Scarlett Johansson (who was just 17 when the movie is filmed) adds greatly to Murray’s complexity. Their performances work in tandem; gently feeding off one another to a beautifully unique conclusion. A-
Marie Antoinette (2006)
The beauty of this film is in its levity. Sure, there are scenes of somewhat heightened drama (including its perfect ending), but Coppola’s unique brand of humor is what makes this film shine. Night after night, we watch Marie (Kirsten Dunst) be sexually rejected by her seemingly uninterested husband, Louis XVI (Coppola’s cousin, Jason Schwartzman). And, despite the repetitiveness of these scenes, it always remains humorous. As does Marie’s inability to grasp the manners of food, dress, conversation, and so on. While I think Marie Antoinette is far from Coppola’s best film, it’s rather refreshing to see a biopic about people involved in the French Revolution that in no way feels stuffy. B
The film very patiently follows movie star Johnny Marco (a career best Stephen Dorff, who really deserved more attention for his work here) as he aimlessly lives his life in L.A.’s famed Chateau Marmont. By all accounts, Johnny seems like a pretty standard star. He says little, parties frequently, sleeps around, drinks, smokes – he lives without a worry, moving to his own beat. And when he’s left to care for his young daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning, perfect), Somewhere quietly morphs into a tender, father/daughter romance unlike any I’ve seen.
How does a star behave when he’s forced to behave? How does one impose rules when rules are normally disregarded? Coppola tediously explores this in Somewhere. Harris Savides’ miraculous cinematography, Phoenix’s gentle tunes, Sarah Flack’s reserved editing and the calm sensibilities of Dorff and Fanning all motivate the film’s purposefully slow narrative.
I’ve noticed that I’ve said a bit about the film here, but I’ve really said nothing. That’s the argument many detractors have with Somewhere, and Coppola’s films in general. What does it mean to watch a black Ferrari circle an empty racetrack in the desert, over and over and over? What does it mean to watch a man sit alone in a dark hotel room, drinking with one hand, smoking with the other? What does it mean for a man to finally admit his lack of worth to a telephone that isn’t hearing him? What does it mean? It means everything. A+
The Bling Ring (2013)
The Bling Ring tells the true story of a group of teenagers who continuously robbed celebrities’ homes in 2008-2009. The kids, all wealthy and entitled from their parents’ money, stole cash, drugs, and designer clothes as a means of relieving boredom. There was no grand scheme or end game, they simply did it to do it, and Coppola captures it all in frenetic, jovial style.
Using a cast of virtual unknown young actors (with the exception of Emma Watson, who is superb as the most famous Bling Ringer, reality TV star Alexis Neiers), the film is a horrifying account of misspent youth and uninhibited wealth. While watching the many robberies in the film, I always found myself hoping the kids would get away with it. And later, when they foolishly bragged about their escapades at parties or on Facebook, I wanted nothing more then for them to go down.
Similarly to how The Virgin Suicides is a mediation on grief, the sequence in which the police search the homes of members of The Bling Ring is as honest a depiction of human nature as Coppola has ever captured. One kid denies everything, another tries to bargain. And one kid cries while hugging his mom, which is something I certainly didn’t expect to see. But that’s Sofia Coppola, never shying away from showing us something new. B+
The Virgin Suicides
Lost in Translation
The Bling Ring
Lick the Star
Just Plain Bad