Lucky for him that he has an 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), who is about to be dropped off when her mother, Johnny’s ex, needs some alone time. She provides him someone with whom he can spend some redemptive time playing Guitar Hero and having pretend underwater tea parties before being left alone again to contemplate the emptiness of the rest of his life.
Coppola—who traveled in similar sad-celebrity territory much more effectively in Lost in Translation—packs into her 90-minute running time plenty of meticulously choreographed long takes of Johnny drifting on an air mattress in a pool or staring pensively into the distance, allowing ample opportunity for viewers to wallow in Johnny’s existential despair. But Dorff’s performance is far too shallow to allow insight into Johnny’s shifting priorities, nor can he make his inevitable sobbing breakdown feel like anything but a mediocre actor playing at what he thinks real catharsis looks like. Meanwhile, Fanning’s considerable effortless charms and thousand-watt smile are wasted on a role that’s little more than a plot device for Johnny’s awakening.
It all leads up to a concluding scene that, while intended to be an emotionally satisfying bookend to the can’t-you-just-smell-the-metaphor opening shot, feels as absurdly self-absorbed as Johnny seems to be. “Who is Johnny Marco?” asks a clearly stupid entertainment journalist at a press conference. The better question is, “Why should we care?”
Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning