Lost in Translation marks Bill Murray's latest foray into offbeat films, where he plays Bob, a struggling movie star trapped in Japan for a commercial shoot. The strategy is paying off, for Lost in Translation will no doubt turn out to be one of the better movies of the fall.
Scarlett Johansson (Ghost World) shares the lead with Murray as Charlotte, a young and depressed wife that seems equally out of her element in the drastically different culture of Japan. More than anything she is frustrated that her husband (Giovanni Ribisi, with a surprisingly small role) has no time for her. However, as both Charlotte and Bob suffer from insomnia, they discover a unique friendship empowered by their hollowness.
Sofia Coppola, in her follow-up to the excellent Virgin Suicides, shows that she has the image to create some truly entertaining films. While The Virgin Suicides is cinematically a slightly more beautiful film, Lost in Translation has its own look and feel that really compliments the dry and quirky script. In fact, this movie reminded me much of The Royal Tenenbaums (in which Murray also starred) and Wes Anderson's other movies in the way that the slow and methodical filmwork helps capture the mood of the story.
Lost in Translation is funny in a way that will only appeal to certain people, but funny nonetheless. It is a patient comedy, where jokes are not necessarily played out every second but nontheless are developing consistently. The movie does take advantage of some of the differences between Americans and Japanese, but, as the title suggests, mainly focuses on the lack of understanding the Japanese people. Many of the jokes involve Murray's failure to understand the Japanese, but most are intelligent and will appeal to smarter crowds.
As far as the acting goes, the character of Bob was definitely made for Murray. He fits the role like a hand in a glove, and is laugh-out-loud hilarious most of the time. Johansson, who actually has a slightly bigger role, is equally impressive; if she picks more movies like this, she has a good career ahead of her.
Lost in Translation does lag in a few parts, and though it is only an hour and a half long, feels much longer. It definitely works better as a comedy than as a drama, and when it is going gung ho as a drama, just feels sluggish.
Nevertheless, Lost in Translation is entertaining and funny, and while it is never overpowering, is one of the better movies of 2003.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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