Lost in Translation (2003) (R)

Bob Harris is an actor has-been. In the 70s he made B-list movies that were popular but never garnered him an immortality as a celebrity that so many others have enjoyed. In the middle of his marriage that is slowly becoming extinguished and under financial duress he takes a job, endorsing a whiskey brand. He then has to travel to Japan to take a few photo shoots and film a commercial.
Right from the beginning, Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation" is not your average film. It's not a big plot twist movie that reveals some hidden character as the murderer or some other such device. Instead, it's a movie that is attempts to evoke a feeling from the viewer.
Bob travels from city to city with relative ease, it seems. He has acquired a certain comfortableness with people that he uses to get along. But confronted with fast paced words in a language that he does not understand mixed with the culture shock, jet lag, and emotional problems at home, he ends up in a state of lethargy. He just wants to get from here to there and back again without much trouble, he's seen enough of that. But even though he starts putting minimum effort into his job, he still wants to do it because he's not a quitter. This slowness of movement accompanied with all his problems lands Bob Harris in a temporary phase of insomnia.
Charlotte is married to a photographer who's shooting a band in Japan. She a recent graduate of Yale with a degree in philosophy but she's not really sure what to do with her life. In this mental fixation of having to be someone and do something, the indecisiveness weighs down on her and she too starts to experience trouble sleeping. Her marriage is stuck in a rut, just after two years. She doesn't get along with her husband's friends, yet it's not dissatisfaction but maybe boredom that's setting in to her love life.
Their paths cross and then a spark occurs between them in the most unusual way.
It's a romance without being romantic, a comedy without laughs. It's a genre-defying picture that tries to be incredibly intimate but falls short by just a small fraction.
Bill Murray plays Bob Harris and it seems that Murray may have chosen this role because it mirrors his career so aptly. He's delightfully droll and lost in his own world of troubles and sorrows and it seems that no one can hear him. That is, until he meets Charlotte.
Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is the one person who's experiencing what he is and needs someone to talk to. They find each other and a friendship blossoms that feels so genuine.
Although Murray is great in this role, the acting spotlight is stolen by Johansson who is simply brilliant in her role. She's reserved and fun but not over-the-top. The make-up team has created a very natural look for this movie, they haven't made anyone look glamorous or ugly, they just look human.
It's the humanity of the film that is so touching.
But this film isn't perfect, in an attempt to recreate a Danny Boyle style, Coppola is a little too heavy handed with the feelings she's trying to convey. For example: one scene has characters singing karaoke. When the scene has revealed what it needs to reveal, it keeps going and becomes annoyingly long. It's not that it makes the scene more intimate if the filming continues, it's just pointless. There are several instances like this, but there are other scenes that are so subtle with their meaning that they are almost breathtaking.
It's funny and ironic and full a little moments that make the film. In the end I feel that "Lost in Translation" does bring forth emotion from the viewer, but it's not as powerful as it could be.

Score: 3 stars out of 4

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