Friday, August 06, 2010
Director/writer: Sofia Coppola
Photography: Lance Acord
Music: Kevin Shields
Cast: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris, Fumihiro Hayashi
I suppose it's easy enough to be distracted by the case for nepotism against Sofia Coppola, who may well have never had the opportunities to get her feature film projects off the ground if she didn't have the last name, and father (and, face it, gene strands), that she does. And I will acknowledge not caring much for what else by her I know, her third film, 1999's The Virgin Suicides. But this moves in mysterious ways, in large part out of a weird yet electrifying chemistry between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson, who are both not only first-rate, but positively swimming with grace and poise in an affluent only felt and barely seen clearly or understood. The setting is Tokyo, where Charlotte (played by Johannson) has repaired on a working vacation with her husband of two years, who is a celebrity photographer far more interested at the moment in his work and its perks than in Charlotte. She spends most of her days by herself in the hotel room or wandering the city. Bob (played by Murray) is a fading movie star who made his bones in action pictures, and he's easily twice her age. He is in Tokyo to shoot commercials and photos for the ad campaign of a whiskey brand, and while there gets roped into more promotional chores. Bob and Charlotte are both staying at the same hotel, both miserable and lonely, both unable to connect with their partners. (Bob's wife Lydia appears as a tinny voice on the other end of phone calls and a name at the end of snippy messages or on fax cover sheets, which always seem to arrive on the machine in Bob's room at 4 a.m.) Gradually, recognizing one another in the hotel lobby and elevators, Bob and Charlotte begin to fall into each other's orbits. Coppola does a nice job of keeping the spaces across which these figures must navigate somehow unbearably huge, setting them in a foreign city full of strange sounds and sights, where even the alphabet is all wrong, which has the effect of making them seem that much more tiny. They are bitter, cynical, snappish, suffering from insomnia and a kind of homesickness that is much larger than simply wanting to be home again. They don't necessarily want to be home again. But they want desperately to be somewhere else, anywhere, away, and in each other they find something that might resemble that fleeting place. The smartest thing Coppola did with this, of course, was keep the relationship strictly chaste. Abstracting out that element of the desperate clutch is enough in itself to move mountains, as the tiny details of the connections and disconnections between Bob and Charlotte—a night at a karaoke bar (the music throughout has a lot to do with making this movie work), a night in Charlotte's room, a night watching TV in Bob's room, a bad lunch—slowly build into something that, if not monumental, nonetheless might stay with you forever.