LOST IN TRANSLATION review
Published at: Aug. 14, 2003, 6:16 p.m. CST by headgeek
With LOST IN TRANSLATION, Sofia Coppola has grown in leaps and bounds from her debut feature film as director. Don’t get me wrong, I love THE VIRGIN SUICIDES… That film holds what I consider to be Kirsten Dunst’s best work to date as well as Josh Hartnett’s best work. It was a very very accomplished film and one that I wish I had seen on screen.
This time, I was taking no chances. The second the rep for the film emailed me the press release on LOST IN TRANSLATION, I began work setting up a screening for me. It was important for me to see this film early, before it began its scheduled platform releasing schedule, because I prefer to get the word out there to all of you on quality films way before they pass you by.
LOST IN TRANSLATION is absolutely and completely satisfying on every possible level. I’m gaga in love with this film. This is the best BILL MURRAY movie period in my opinion. Bill owns this film. Well, co-owns it with Scarlett Johansson. Let me start at the beginning…
It begins with the most wonderful opening shot of a film I’ve seen in years. It’s impossible to describe the beauty of this shot or the resonance it brought out of me, butt it definitely took my breath away. You’ll just have to see it for yourself, I won’t spoil it.
The film centers around two characters stuck at a Tokyo Hotel on business. Bill Murray is an aging actor from Hollywood… in an odd way he reminded me of Burt Reynolds throughout the film… that is at that point in his life where the marriage is loveless and the travel and exotic things in life are just dead. He does his work at the set, dashingly dressed in a Tuxedo while huckstering a Whisky product. He loathes it all. When he returns to the hotel from set, he’s alone. He isn’t really tired, the work isn’t exhausting, but he’s just bored. Bored not just with the situation, but with life itself.
Meanwhile, we’re also introduced to Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte, a young intelligent beautiful blooming flower of a lady married to a self-absorbed and busy young photographer played by Giovanni Ribisi. Charlotte tries to take in the sites of Tokyo, goes to a Buddhist monastery to listen to the chanting and feel something, but instead felt distant from it all. Her lonely wanderings are leaving no impressions, no resonance and this is scaring her. She’s mortified by how aware she is at how annoyed she is with things and how unaware her young husband is.
These early sequences of the film are wonderfully put together with a great deal of “fish out of water” humor of an American in Tokyo trying to figure out what anything means. The scene of Charlotte in the Tokyo arcade was surreal. Watching some guy beat a drum as noodles with arms, legs and eyes danced in the corner of his screen as bright lights flashed all over the screen was just… bizarre. This other guy that seeming was doing dance moves while playing a game that had no rhyme or reason to these Western eyes… and the Electric Guitar game… bizarre.
In fact, the third main star of the film is Tokyo and Japan as a culture. Japanese culture has always been fascinating to me and the more extreme weird stuff is just touched on here. More than even the culture, it is a film showing what it is like to be apart from that culture. That “stranger in a strange land” scenario. Traveling alone. There’s a strange thing that happens to you in the lap of luxury alone… you become bored out of your skull. The room service, massage, swimming pool, hotel bar, the lounge act and even the porn and free cable… it’s amazing how boring that gets. So you head out into the world, but are only constantly reminded that you can’t read the signs, you don’t understand the games, the food looks bizarre and you feel stupid, out of place and like the dumb American you may be.
That’s when Charlotte and Bill’s Bob Harris meet. It isn’t instant, and there isn’t an instant chemistry. They continually bump into each other… bored and seeking something or someone to connect with. As odd as it may seem, this 53 year old aging actor and 19 year old Philosophy graduate, well… at this hotel, for these 10 days… they’re entwined lost souls both needing a shoulder to lean on and an ear to bend.
I miss these characters. The second the film ended it was like being separated from those great people you met at a party, but forgot to exchange numbers… I knew I’d never have a new conversation with them again. That I wouldn’t get to know what happened next or where they went in their lives. I really didn’t want the movie to end, even though it ended perfectly. A friend of mine that I took to the screening, about 5 days later said to me, in regards to Murray and Johansson’s characters… “I really miss those guys.” EXACTLY. That is EXACTLY correct. I really miss these guys.
They play characters that I personally would love to chat endlessly with. People I’d love to have their phone numbers to add to the friends I already have. These are great characters, people and souls captured in Sofia’s script, camera and film.
As much as I love Bill Murray’s performance, I share with equal enthusiasm the love for Scarlett’s work. TWO AMAZING ACTORS that are just knocking it all out of the park.
This is why I didn’t miss Bill Murray in CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE, this is the exact sort of work that he’s capable of when given the material. He does so much with little gestures, tiny things with his eyes, the shrugs and the glib delivery wry with irony. This is most like his work in RUSHMORE, only… this time the absurdist whimsy of Max Fischer isn’t constantly ripping us away from his character. Here, he is center stage with the amazing young lady and he dazzles.
Scarlett Johansson has now been in 3 great films. GHOST WORLD, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE and LOST IN TRANSLATION. She is absolutely one of the most exciting and talented actresses working. In this film, you so want to take care of her, see that she’s given the attention she is so panging for. What an amazing strong young woman to see on screen.
However, both of these performances were guided with amazing patience and guile by Sofia Coppola. The long takes where she lets the characters find each other, trusting the actors to breath life into the stillness and quiet moments that we all have in our lives. Sofia is a tremendous talent. She isn’t just breathing full life into her women characters, but also texturing the men in this film with such honesty… that you wish to just join the characters on screen and spend more time with them.
To create a film with characters so alive, so filled with what it is to be human… it is something to celebrate. This is a great film, do not let it pass you by.