Spike and Sofia on the Skids?

Opposite aesthetics would seem to spell splitsville for indie cinema's power couple


His wife's work is a different story. In Coppola's Lost in Translation, a seemingly privileged young spouse (Scarlett Johansson) gets blown off in darkest Tokyo by her Velcro shoe-wearing schmuck of a photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi, who's in no way evoking Jonze's public persona). Surrounded by all three flavors of Silly Japanese People, our heroine finds the one person (Bill Murray) who possesses the qualities she most admires: sarcasm, emotional frigidity, and tiny flecks of tenderness making their way through the hepcat mask. Lost in Translation is the tale of two emotionally defended hipsters fighting through their game faces and their attitude issues to make a flicker of connection--which arrives in a climactic scene that has to rank as the biggest movie copout since the final reel of The Blair Witch Project.

Despite what most of the film's fans will tell you, the success of Lost in Translation isn't because it's soooo romantic, but because it provides a forum for young/smart/urban audiences to pretend to be as cool, accomplished, and sharply dressed as Scarlett/Sofia and as wry and worldly-wise as Bill. These moviegoers are invited to flex their attraction-and-engagement muscles with no muss, no fuss, and no aftermath--nothing but the pleasant hum of frictionless flirtation. It's trademarked passion for the PlayStation era, a chance to display one's most desirable qualities not as part of any human transaction, but just for show. (Tellingly, Coppola's follow-up to Translation is the video for the White Stripes' cover of "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself"--featuring Kate Moss pole-dancing in an empty room.)

Lost and found: Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze on their respective sets
Focus Features/Palm Pictures
Lost and found: Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze on their respective sets

Like her spiritual sibling Wes Anderson, Coppola resists putting sexuality in her movies not just out of emotional guardedness, but out of a fear of feeling gravity's pull--part of the process that leads to aging, decay, and the Big Nowhere. Where the neuroses of the aging Woody Allen are getting a big "Ask Again Later" from the masses' Magic 8-Ball, Coppola's fear of cooties touches a major nerve. Almost 10 years ago, hipsters made a massive hit out of Pulp Fiction, mainly because the posing and teasing of John Travolta and Uma Thurman put the ironic jive of your pierced and tattooed friends and neighbors in the gilded wrapping of a big-time movie-movie. Johansson and Murray can be seen as a 10-years-later version of that couple: cooler, burned-out, less patient, more corporate in their dealings with the world and each other. Me, I'd be afraid to go anywhere near the poker-faced abstainers of Lost in Translation. I might order them the wrong vodka and never hear the end of it.

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