leave a comment --Ken Fox
Lightweight and a bit of a let-down, Sofia Coppola's follow-up to the marvelous VIRGIN SUICIDES is nevertheless an interesting development in what's shaping up to be an interesting career. Set almost entirely in Tokyo's tony Park Hyatt Hotel, it's a gently nuanced, two-character comedy revolving around an unlikely romance between an older, disaffected actor and an aimless young woman. Like many other American celebrities who slip off to foreign countries to appear in commercials they hope will never be seen at home (a practice known as "Japandering"), middle-aged movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) arrives in Tokyo to star in an ad campaign for Suntory whisky. Jet-lagged and depressed over where his career has taken him — he knows he should be home appearing in plays rather than collecting a $2 million paycheck for a few days of easy, albeit humiliating, work — Bob spends his downtime in his room, fielding faxes and FedEx packages from his wife, or in the hotel bar, throwing back drinks and avoiding fans. Insomnia, culture shock and Tokyo's disorienting riot of sounds and images — a few of them his own — only exacerbate Bob's alienation. Twenty-two-year-old Yale grad Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is facing a life crisis of her own in the hermetically sealed rooms of the Park Hyatt. Left alone by her husband, John (Giovanni Ribisi), a celebrity photographer who's off on assignment, Charlotte listens to self-help CDs and wonders what she should be doing with her life. She can't sleep either, and also finds Tokyo a bewildering experience. Charlotte meets Bob in the safety of the hotel bar, and despite their differences, their mutual isolation and the odd, artificial circumstances of hotel life draw them together. A tentative romance begins. Johansson is a wonderfully talented young actress, and Coppola allows Murray to improvise on top of his more serious RUSHMORE persona. But the film never really transcends its simple situation and seems oddly unembarrassed by its provincial attitude towards foreign cultures. Coppola shows us Japan solely through the eyes of her characters, who see the Japanese as cartoonishly infantile, infatuated with asinine TV shows, karaoke and silly video games. It can be funny, but the humor is too often based in stereotypical perceptions of Asians (they're short, they're laughably polite, they eat weird food), and Coppola shamelessly invites us to laugh along with Murray's character, who, believe it or not, thinks it's hilarious when his bobbing and bowing hosts get their "r"s and "l"s switched.