by Sawyer J. Lahr
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It’s mundane life as usual even for squabbling b-movie actor Johnny Marko living a hermit’s life at the famous Chateau Marmont. A reckless party-boy and non-stop casual sex addict, Marko, played so naturally by Stephen Dorff. His slight cut gut, you could say, has its appeal but belongs more to a rugged biker or a big city hipster. In LA, it’s just bad taste. The problem isn’t that this young star doesn’t know better. He just got rich and famous too quick, had a child, and divorced. He has everything, but nothing that matters long-term with the one big exception of his very grown-up acting daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning, sister to Dakota)
A thoroughbred actress, Fanning makes her mark in this dramatic role. You wonder what’s in that head of hers as she makes her periodic visits until Elle’s mother leaves her indefinitely. Left to care for Cleo, Marko’s world is balanced out rather than turned upside down by the responsibility.
Coppola gives us a film worthy of its Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. She manages to stylize her film’s out of the constraints of time and place. We must live in her characters’ reality for 98 minutes, not our own. We witness Marko’s long self-reflective moments that need to words, but say exactly what he is feeling. Each still frame photographed by Harris Savides (Greenberg, Milk, Elephant) breathes even when tightly controlled. The shots are one-frame comedy, representing an emotion, not just recording a plot point. Tricks of cinematography and CG can never express the minutiae that a modest budget, small crew, and cast can produce with the freedom to improvise.
Sawyer J. Lahr is Chief Editor of the forthcoming online publication, Go Over the Rainbow. He also writes a monthly film column for Mindful Metropolis, a conscious living magazine in Chicago, IL.
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