LOST IN TRANSLATION

(2003)
With Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi
Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola
Reviewed by JB (and JB)

Note: I originally gave a negative review to LOST IN TRANSLATION in 2005 and, as the site grew, my review was dropped.  I've seen it again, and this time around, it made much more sense to me.  So I offer both reviews. - JB

ORIGINAL REVIEW (2005)

Bill     Lots of people love this film.  I am not one of them.  Alfred Hitchcock once described drama as life with the dull bits cut out.  LOST IN TRANSLATION is where all those dull bits wound up. 

     Bill Murray plays an ex-movie star who has been reduced to doing whiskey commercials in Japan, and Scarlett Johansson plays a newlywed whose photographer husband is too busy working with a rock band to give her much attention.  The film is about the sweet friendship that develops between these two lost Americans, but Sofia Coppola's script is so lacking in dramatic incident that somewhere after the first hour, I started wishing Murray would just book his flight home already.  Coppola, who displays a keen eye behind the camera, tries for a realistic, slice-of-life feel, as if we were eavesdropping on these characters.  But if those people are not doing or saying anything interesting, why do I want to watch them for two hours?  The film just goes on and on, with Murray and Johansson hooking up all over Japan, here for a drink, there for a karaoke party, and then back to the hotel and their separate rooms until the next day, and the next. 

     Bill Murray gives an effortless performance but Johansson is a puzzle.  She's a natural beauty and projects a tender sweetness that is hard to resist, but whether she actually does any acting that amounts to more than half-smiling at Murray's remarks, I couldn't tell you without watching the film again.  And that's not going to happen.  On the plus side, there are a handful of very lovely scenes, and kudos to the bittersweet ending and to any movie where two married people meet and *don't* wind up having an affair, which is usually Hollywood's answer for everything. - JB (2005)


NEW REVIEW (2006)

Scarlett     It just goes to show you that movies can be different things at different times.  I recently caught LOST IN TRANSLATION on cable, and it was a brand new experience.  Same film, same cast, same director, different me.  I now think that Sofia Coppola has made a beautiful film, Scarlett Johansson is perfect for her role, and Bill Murray still gives an effortless performance.

    LOST IN TRANSLATION is a pas de deus between two performers with wonderful faces:  Bill Murray, his 50-year-old face craggy, full of pockmarks, hills, valleys and character; and Scarlett Johansson, her 20-year-old face fresh, gorgeous, full of hope and promise.  Murray, of course, is a master of comedy, one of the few SNL alumni who understand that sometimes a blank reaction is funnier than the wildest mugging.  Johansson, at the time the film was made, was not the completely overexposed "Sexiest Woman Alive" of 2006, but, as stated above, a sweet and tender presence, a new commodity, with a career ahead of her that was still a blank canvas.  Together they play out a complete love affair within the space of days, from their initial glances in an elevator and their their first "date" at a karaoke bar, to the first time they sleep together (in the literal sense).  There is Bob's "affair" that Charlotte (Scarlett) accidentally discovers, leading to a breakup and subsequent reconciliation.  All of this plays against the backdrop of a land that is so western and yet so strange to the western eyes.  Bob (Murray) finds Japan unfathomably confusing and sees Charlotte as something familiar, while Charlotte finds a beautiful mystery in the ancient customs, and finds something similar in Bob.  The contrast and interplay between these two actors, whose characters are so obviously in love with each other, renders dialogue meaningless - LOST IN TRANSLATION could almost be a silent movie.  Sofia Coppola understood this, and ended the movie with a now-famous scene where Bob, on his way out of Tokyo, has final words with Charlotte, words which are whispered in her ear only for her.  Some fans of the movie think they have discovered what these words were, but I prefer to think of it as an intensely private moment between two people.  In its own way, it is as effective as Bogey's "hill of beans" speech to Ingrid Bergman in CASABLANCA.

     So that's what I think of LOST IN TRANSLATION now.  Check with me a year from now; I may dislike this film again.  But at the moment, it's become a quirky favorite. ½ - JB

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