Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris
Director: Sofia Coppola
In recent years I can’t recall a movie that has been talked about so little prior to release and so much afterwards, with perhaps the exception of “The Sixth Sense”. Sofia Coppola, who has struggled to recover from her much criticized turn in “The Godfather Part III”, wrote, produced and directed this Oscar winning tale of loneliness in a foreign land.
Bob Harris (Murray – “Groundhog Day”, “Charlie’s Angels”, “Rushmore”, “Kingpin”) is a seventies movie star whose ageing talents are no longer in demand in Hollywood. In order to make a quick $2m, and possibly take a break from his dead-end marriage, he travels to Tokyo to shoot an advert for scotch.
Charlotte (Johansson – “Eight Legged Freaks”, “The Man Who Wasn’t There”, “Ghost World”) is in the Japanese capital accompanying her workaholic photographer husband, John (Ribisi – “Basic”, “The Gift”, “Gone in Sixty Seconds”).
Bob and Charlotte seem to have nothing in common except for a lonely lethargy. But a chance meeting in their hotel bar leads to a slow-burning friendship where they discover that they share the same frustrations and feelings.
It sounds like a simple idea for a screenplay. And indeed it is. Two unhappily married folk meet up in a land that’s foreign to them and find solace in each other’s company, awakening long-hidden feelings of happiness and contentment, perhaps even sexuality.
Studying each character in Sofia Coppola’s award-laden script, it’s not hard to see why the public and critics have heaped praise on “Lost in Translation”.
Charlotte is a sweet, decent young woman, beautiful and pristine, seemingly only hankering for the attention and respect of her husband. John seems to only come alive when he bumps into ditzy actress, Kelly (Faris – “Scary Movie” and its sequels). One telling moment occurs when John laughs earnestly at Kelly’s admission that she has ‘the worst B.O. right now’. Charlotte is not impressed but John dismisses her dislike of Kelly by reminding her that she never has any time for anyone who didn’t go to Yale.
Bob, despite his miserable demeanour and sardonic wit, clearly is a man with a heart. He is trapped in a marriage that has run its course and you can see his hurt and pain when he speaks to his wife on the phone (‘Do I have to worry about you, Bob?’ she asks. ‘Only if you want to,’ he replies). He asks after his kids but feels very much like a man on the outside of the family circle.
Bob notices Charlotte in the lift one day but at that time she is just a young pretty American in a hotel full of locals. Later on Charlotte notices Bob in the bar and she sends him over a drink. Both are alone but it is not until the next night that they sit down and have a conversation. This leads to a wild night out drinking and performing karaoke. Bob carries a passed-out Charlotte home that night and tenderly puts her into her bed before returning to his own room.
The instant chemistry that exists between Bob and Charlotte is what draws you in. The way in which they comfortably share the kind of jokes that could be interpreted the wrong way by strangers or the fact that Bob can enter Charlotte’s room when picking her up for dinner and change his shirt in front of her without either thinking it is unnatural.
In her writing and direction, Sofia Coppola has done her utmost to ensure that the characters and their relationship stays real and restrained. There’s no bed-hopping here. This is about two lost souls as such who long for the kind of attentiveness that they’ve been missing for a long time.
But when you do things a little differently, you call on the audience to make the shift of psyche. And I found that hard to do.
The characters are enriching, the dialogue is witty, the direction is soft and deliberate. But there was just something missing. Maybe it was my desire for ‘an event’. Maybe it’s my need for a movie to do something more than deliver a touching story. I think I needed to see a twist or perhaps a major revelation.
It doesn’t happen. That’s no fault of the movie, and there’s little criticism you could direct at the players for this.
“Lost in Translation” is just not my type of movie. Enjoyable as it is for a while, the relentlessly slow pace means that it becomes a bit of a chore to keep your interest up.
By all means watch it and make your mind up but you could end up in the small minority like I did. Sorry.