Lost in Translation was one of those movies, universally liked, and I had no dying to see it interest. Well, it's 10 years later. I'm safe, right? Might as well check it out.
An aging American movie star, Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is no longer a sure thing at the box office. He's taken a job as a whiskey spokesperson for a company in....Japan. It's a lucrative payday, netting the middle-aged movie star $2 million bucks. There's a catch though. He hates it, hates everything about it. He feels completely out of sorts in Japan as he films commercial after commercial, does photo shoot after photo shoot. At his hotel one night as Bob deals with his own insomnia, he meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a young married woman struggling with where her life is currently at. She's in Tokyo with her photographer husband who's on assignment, leaving her a lot of time to do her own thing. She is of course...miserable. But in this case, the middle-aged actor and the young wife have found a similar soul.
From director/writer Sofia Coppola, 'Translation' cost just $4 million to make but earned over $120 million in its theatrical release. It won an Oscar for Best Screenplay (penned by Coppola), and was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor, none of them managing a win. I'm glad I caught up with it finally. No doubt about it, it's a good flick. That said, I didn't love it. 'Translation' wasn't a life-changing movie for me. It's a good, well-written story that features two great performances from Murray and Johansson. The performances are by far the best thing in Coppola's film.
With a story about people, 'Translation' makes a wise choice and decides to focus on....the people!!! What a great idea! I've always been a big fan of Murray dating back to his SNL/Caddyshack days, but that's how I typically think of him, a comedic actor. Along with his Wes Anderson ventures, he shows he is perfect at that underplayed, smart, a little sarcastic straight man. Just about everything here is underplayed, Murray making Bob this great lead character. His family/home life isn't ideal as we see through some phone calls back home to the wife. The same for Johansson as Charlotte, typically an actress who's thought of more as a pretty face than a good actress (and she is appropriately gorgeous here). Much like Murray, her part is quiet and real without being obvious and aggressively in your face.
It's that chemistry between the duo that carries the movie. And let it be said, it's a good thing because the movie barely has an energetic pulse to begin with. There aren't a lot of set pieces or BIG moments so the episodic story kinda drifts along at certain points. We see a couple chance encounters at the hotel bar, a couple quasi-dates as they explore Tokyo, but mostly it's a lot of talking as we get to know the two characters. We meet them and find out what drives them, how they got to that point, how their personal lives have driven them to become friends in a hotel bar in a foreign country. As for the rest of the cast, it's limited to Giovanni Ribisi as John, Charlotte's photographer husband (generally pretty clueless), Anna Faris as Kelly, an actress doing a publicity tour in Tokyo who knows John in some form from the past.
I'm struggling with much to write about this flick. I liked it but didn't love it. It's good but not even close to great. Coppola's style is subtle and artsy, much like the story itself. 'Translation' explores all sorts of topics from insomnia to feeling out of place to the feeling of being lost in one's life. The ending is mysteriously annoying, but I guess it's an ending that's called for. Nothing is tidy for anyone involved, just a real ending. Mildly disappointed I didn't like this more, and maybe down the road on a repeat viewing, I will. For now...it's okay.
Lost in Translation (2003): ** 1/2 /****