Adapting Catherine Hanrahan’s book of the same, from a screenplay penned by the writer herself, director William Olsson’s Lost Girls & Love Hotels offers a fascinating conceit: Fifty Shades of Grey, but as a noir?
Margaret (Alexandra Daddario) is an American expat living in Tokyo; she drifts through her days teaching English pronunciation at a school for flight attendants and spends her nights with nameless strangers in love hotels – gaudy rooms designed for the sole purpose of having a quick, meaningless shag. It’s a vicious cycle Margaret lives out; her continual, late walks-of-shame into her classroom threaten to damage her reputation and her job security always feels precarious. But Margaret finds her self-destructive routine thrown into flux when she meets yakuza member Kazu (Takehiro Hira). Breaking her own rule, Margaret decides to see Kazu again after their one-night stand and the pair quickly form a relationship… of sorts.
To say it’s a relationship is perhaps an oversimplification. Kazu and Margaret are similar in that they both see happiness as a bygone luxury – a challenge if you will – so their joyless sex comes as an escape from the routine of their lives. Except there’s nothing profound about it. In most instances, you’d expect the two lost souls to find some sort of respite in each other’s company and, while we’re told that’s why they keep hooking up, it never feels like there’s anything there for the characters. This is partly because Hanrahan forgoes the use of narration, which was the thread holding her book together; the characters lack depth because the audience is not privy to their inner musings and rationales. There’s nothing cathartic about Margaret having sex with Kazu because we don’t really know why she does what she does, or what she’s seeking an escape from.
Admittedly, Daddario and Hira turn in competent performances with the little they’re given to work with, and the two undeniably work well together. But the writing is so trite that their erotic sex just feels corny to watch. Kazu is a walking cliche: the enigmatic tough-guy turned goopy romantic for the girl he never expected to fall in love with. Except it never feels genuine. The issue with Fifty Shades of Grey was that it drained all of the fun and sensuality out of on-screen sex; Lost Girls & Love Hotels is much the same. The latter, at least, tries to be a darkly psychological character study about an expat adrift in a foreign land, but Margaret is so closed off from the audience that it lacks the emotional depth needed to work. The result is a film that looks visually stunning, thanks to a neon-soaked palette from DP Kenji Katori, but lacks anything else.
Olsson’s offering is both devoid of the sensuality needed to be an erotic drama and absent of the atmosphere to be a mood-piece. By the end, we sort of feel like Margaret herself: drifting through unattached, uninterested, wishing it was over.
Lost Girls & Love Hotels releases on DVD and Digital Download February 8th.