The widespread adulation for Lost in Translation seems more about critics proclaiming their hip detachment than it is about the movie.Sofia Coppola’s second film is a wispy piece about two Americans sharing their common perspective during a brief exile in the alien environs of a Tokyo high-rise hotel. Bill Murray is perfectly cast as a past-his-prime film star humiliating himself for a $2 million whisky promotion. Scarlett Johansson is saddled with the director-surrogate role of a barely adult woman with a neglectful photographer husband. She never quite succeeds in making Charlotte more than a spoilt dilettante.
Writer-director Coppola excels at sustaining an intense mood of dreamy longing, but we knew that already, from The Virgin Suicides. There are too many artsy longueurs of Tokyo neon cityscapes and endless hotel corridors. But there are also moments that are near perfect, such as Johansson’s sparkly voice grappling with “Brass in Pocket” during a karaoke scene, or Murray serenading her with Roxy Music’s “More than this” with his solemn, drunken intensity. Then Coppola blows it again by making fun of a Japanese face for a cheap laugh, or during a ridiculous sequence where Charlotte submits herself to hospital treatment despite her inability to comprehend the local language or customs.The film’s characters mistake their shared ironic sensibility and cool detachment for genuine feeling. Too many salivating critics have tumbled headlong into the same trap.