Going Down the Up Escalator? A Retrospective on Sofia Coppola

The Brass Tacks from Marcus Lebov When she hit the scene running with “The Virgin Suicides,” I became an instant die-hard fan of screenwriter-director Sofia Coppola – her sublime temperedly directed adaptation was appropriately cast and boasted a remarkable soundtrack. In 2003, she earned an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for “Lost in Translation.”

And then in 2010, she made a film called “Somewhere” – or “Anywhere the fuck but here, please stop Somewhere!” – about an aimless A-list actor – Johnny Depp meets the late Corey Haim – which won The Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Here, her writing was pop, nebulous, nowhere close to original.  Her quite passable cast was somehow hostage to that skeleton of a screenplay, while her direction made me want to take a piss. And the music, which could have salvaged this pointedly dispirited picture was barely there – maybe 4 songs in the two hour feature, a score that was less than minimal.

Her latest effort, “The Bling Ring,” which cinematizes the real dealings of southern California teenagers, who repeatedly broke into the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Orlando Bloom in 2009, claiming about $3 million worth of apparel, cash, and Xanax, stars Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga, Leslie Mann, Katie Chang and Israel Broussard. Because Ms. Sofia Coppola wrote and directed, the crimedy opened at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. If Nick Cassavetes had directed this film, it might have been a home run. The late and great Tony Scott would have been the one to drop the hammer for this project. Coppola’s effort amounted to an MTV version of “Alpha Dog” meets “Beverly Hills 90210.”

sofia-coppola11Alec Julian’s Rebuttal  I didn’t love “Lost in Translation.” It was a kind of ho hum indie movie with big names attached. I only liked that not much happened, which is even truer for her following films. Some of the critics who’ve raved about this Bill Murray vehicle argue that Coppola’s career has veered.

Perhaps she’s in a race to the bottom against herself, repeatedly attempting to produce incarnations of conflations of lowbrow and highbrow art.

Stephen Dorff, in “Somewhere,” doesn’t revel in the quintessential pageantry unique to Chateau Marmont, which mag rags try to make us expect. “Marie Antoinette” is an honest attempt at forcing a good but glitzy performing out of Kirsten Dunst (Lars von Trier ably did in “Melancholia”).  Just compare the Lifetime version of “The Bling Ring” and Ms. Coppola’s to see how hard she tries to elevate the lowbrow.

It’s hip when someone’s getting away with lumpy character arcs, so it’s no surprise that critics and audiences are clearing their throats at the mention of Sofia Coppola.

However, it’s all right if Coppola keeps on in this vein, lending some nuance, halcyon temperament, and taste to the razzmatazz of celebrity. If anything, it’s a testament to writing what you know. She may be in lukewarm waters, but she’s doing what she wants. Perhaps she’ll be joined by auteur Lena Dunham, who shares Coppola’s “well-bred” vantage, if the wind stops blowing “Girls’” way. At least, it’s somewhere.

Alec Julian is a Los Angeles based writer, who (fake) tweets

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