Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Some Holiday Kindness for the Coppola Kids

Alright, I've had my sights set on Sofia Coppola for a while now.

I think it was Daniel who quoted me as saying, some four years ago, that he admired my simple adage: Films by Francis Coppola's kids all suck. This was not long before the release of Marie Antoinette which, though the film has it's defenders, was mostly met with towering brickbats. So I'd like to go on record to say that I hated it first, sight unseen.

Hey: It's me, not them. I'll admit to the core of my hostility towards Sofia and to a lesser extent his brother Roman is rooted in a deep sense of societal fairness. Meritocracy is what makes America great. It's also what draws people from all over the world to work in Hollywood-- the idea that if you have the right ideas or talent, you can go far regardless of how humble your origins are and far outside the TMZ you came from. This meritocracy ironically exists side-by-side with the most outrageous bias there is: if you're good-looking you can easily get in the door and you're guaranteed at least a walk-on or two.

The idea of aristocracies should be abhorrent to every American who has even the slightest idea of why this country was founded in the first place. But aristocracies are here, and apparently thanks to some recent bipartisan legislation they're here to stay, and on their way to being tax-free-- coincidentally, just like the nobles were in Marie Antoinette's time.

So in Hollywood we have the kids and grandkids of talented artists, their careers paths pre-paved and pre-lit, all tolls paid. Sometimes it works out well-- I'll never fault Ben Stiller for riding coattails, nor is George Clooney guilty of leveraging anything more than his aunt's last name.

But the Coppola kids are another breed entirely. Sofia in particular has no problem using the medium of film to interpret the world exclusively thorough the extremely narrow definition of being Francis Coppola's privileged kid. Lost In Translation draws deeply from her personal experiences of aimlessly hanging around in a five-star hotel in Tokyo. Marie Antoinette is a gleefully shared observation about how great it is to wear pretty clothes and cool shoes and have unlimited amounts of money.

Sofia's latest, out soon, is Somewhere, which breaks from her monologue films to something closer to a biography. It's about Johnny, a jaded movie star (Stephen Dorff-- has nobody heard of the Stephen Dorff Curse?) who spends his time doing drugs and hanging out with strippers in the Chateau Marmont (hey-- another hotel flick!). He continues his downward-- albiet well-financed-- spiral, until... according the the LA Times:
Until, that is, his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), is thrust into Johnny's care. The precocious preteen awakens his parental instinct and punctures his abiding self-absorption. Hmm. Kind of like the movie's director — who as a kid regularly took up lengthy hotel residencies while Dad shot movies such as "Apocalypse Now" and "The Cotton Club" and was exposed to her father's freewheeling Hollywood hubris — might have done?
So what we have here, protests in the press to the contrary, is Sofia tangentially making a film about... her dad. Roman did the exact same thing with his film CQ (2001), which is tangentially about his father's early career in the late 1960s.

Did I say I hated the films these guys make? Maybe I do, but I beginning to lose much of my animus toward the Coppola kids themselves. After reading the synopsis for Somewhere, I actually started to feel a little sorry for them. Imagine trying to make your mark in an industry where your father has produced undisputed masterpieces. Even worse: your father was able to create great art in a period in history when an auteur was given artistic freedom and studio funding-- a level of autonomy and unquestioned financial support on a scale the current generation of young filmmakers can only envy.

Through their self-reflexive films, it's becoming apparent Francis Ford Coppola really left his bootprint on his kids. They're a little like trauma victims, reliving overwhelming experiences by doodling them out on the walls of their rooms, never able to truly get out of their own heads.

But time and success heals all wounds, right? Roman Coppola has carved out a decent career as a Second Unit Director-- of course, it's usually for films helmed by Wes Anderson or his sister or his dad, but it's good, honest, stress-free work. And Somewhere won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival-- Of course, the glaring fact that Sofia's ex-boyfriend Quentin Tarantino was the presiding judge should probably be ignored as a wild coincidence.


  1. No, no... Okay, I do, but not as much. that's progress, right?

    In fact, I should add a bit about their unfortunate circumstance: It may be traumatic trying to follow Francis C's career, but nobody is holding guns to Sofia's and Roman's head, forcing them to stay in the movie biz. At least, I don't think so.