Lost in Translation (2003)
(Release Date: August 19, 2003 [Telluride Film Festival])
(Theatrical Release Date: September 12, 2003)

Four Stars. It's a good, but very flawed film!

A good, if flawed, translation of self!
The LOVE me in Japan!
J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

Scarlett's Face!
Scarlett Johansson's Rear End!

I've been a big Bill Murray Fan for probably as long as I've been alive. From my Uncles not changing the Channel on the Old Saturday Night Live to Ghostbusters to even Larger Than Life and unquestionably The Royal Tenenbaums! From way back in his career, old Bill cultivated a character for himself and fits perfectly within that character. Two things have kept him from being the Oracle at Delphi as far as acting reliability here: One is his public campaigning for an Academy Award for Rushmore ("I was very good in this movie!" he said)! The other is for his performance as Polonius in the worst ever version of Hamlet back in 2000. In a cast where everyone (including the director) misunderstood the script and handled their respective jobs with the accuity of The Incredible Hulk doing wrist watch repair, not even old Bill could be relied on to act.

Bill needed something to show what he can do. Enter Sofia Coppola (Daughter of Francis Ford who executive produced). Sophia's own acting career's had its ups and downs too, but after directing The Virgin Suicides some clout she has. After a Purgative vacation discovering herself in Japan, Sophia wrote Lost in Translation, a purgative story of finding oneself on a trip to Japan. Reportedly basing the female lead, Charlotte (the wonderful Scarlett Johansson) on herself, and writing the part of the male lead Bob Harris specifically for Murray, it's clear that Coppola had a specific movie to make in mind, and for all intents and purposes, what we see on the screen is indeed a fantastic slice of life and the imagination that you don't usually get in movies that carry a Major Studio Brand.

When Charlotte's workaholic and otherwise questionable hubby John (Giovanni Ribisi) leaves her alone in their Japanese Hotel Suite as he travels the country working, she strikes up a slippery-slope friendship with Bob Harris, an aging, good, but not in his prime popularity actor (much like Bill Murray).

What follows is an infinitely watchable journey through Tokyo arm-in-arm in which Charlotte and Bob deepen their friendship while questioning their own somewhat lackluster "real-lives." I tell you, from time to time, watching these two communicate in deep, yet believable dialogue is just amazing. There's no lust or illicit, gratuitous adultery to sell this movie to the masses, instead Lost in Translation is as cerebral and suggestive as My Dinner with Andre. Coppola as director manages to pull out of her hat the best possible method of telling the story that we see (and don't see) with two unique tools of the trade: (drum-roll) "Acting" and "Dialogue!"

While it's true that by definition, Murray is simply playing himself, he says more with his eyes and expressions than even Sophia's dialogue makes clear. Is he the best actor of the year? Hard to say, but what ever he is, I'm impressed where it counts. Further, Murray's Karaoke attempts aren't just fun (and funny) but pretty much make one scream for his version of "Star Waaaaaaaaaaaaars, nothing but Staaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaars!"

Johansson is beautiful, but realistic in her portrayal of Charlotte. At no point does she seem like anything but a real human being trapped in her own life. Johansson dissolves into her role of Charlotte! She seems so real that she never feels like she's acting! Like Murray, she expresses her character nonverbally as well as she translates Coppola's script! Look for more from her!

Somehow along the way Giovanni Ribisi went from being that creepy kid on The X-Files and Friends to being someone I'm glad to see in just about any film. I'll be damned. There's nothing to really love about his not often seen, supporting character John, but Ribisi's sparse portrayal fills this space well.

It's admirable how Coppola managed to make so much of a film with the budget she had, and it's great the way she chooses subtlety over the explicit and acting over explosions (by aaron pruitt). This could have easily become "Lust in Translation" but doesn't (inspite of the fact that the opening credits do appear over the backdrop of Johansson's posterior region). All that considered, though, this isn't a perfect film. There is the occasional film-padding moment that doesn't seem to escalate or damage the relationship between Bob and Charlotte. Moments like these feel a lot like Sophia had a lot of stream of consciousness going down in her Tokyo Hotel Room that she couldn't fathom editing out! There's also quite a lot of "let's get ourselves OSCARS!!!" moments as well, proving that it's not just Kevin Spacey that does this! All this coupled with a number of jokes at the expense of the Japanese that are tiresome the first time you hear them, and one or two scenes lifted directly from The Accidental Tourist bring down what is otherwise a very good non-Hollywood film!

Still the Acting and the well-told and expressed story make this film worthy of Four Stars out of Five. More than the relationship questions that this film poses, Lost in Translation boldly asks the question "is playing yourself really well actually 'acting?'" and "Is writing about being disenchanted with Spike Jonze on a trip to Japan an Oscar-Worthy Script?" Not to mention, "Will Sophia Coppola ever really recover from her reviews in The Godfather: Part III?" On February 29, 2004 the answer to these questions was "Yep!" Bill, you were very good in this movie... let's hope that Lost in Translation is the Swiffer Wet Jet that expunges 2000's Hamlet from your resume!

Want to get extremely lost in translation?
Clickity Click Click here for more perplexing reviews!

Lost in Translation reviewed by J.C. Maçek III who is solely responsible for his views on this and many, many other sites,
and is also responsible in part for the Saint Francis Dam Disaster, Man!
Got something to say? Write it!

Navigation Links:
What's New?Alphabetical Listing of Reviews!SearchThisSite:Advertise With Us!About...Lynx Links:F*A*Q