Movie Review
Lost in Translation
Lost in Translation poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published September 13, 2003
US Release: September 12, 2003

Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray , Scarlett Johansson , Giovanni Ribisi , Anna Faris

R for some sexual content.
Running Time: 105 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $44,566,000
2 of 132
A familiar concept told intelligently by a filmmaker who doesn?t give in to the standard clich?s of its characters
Lost in Translation starts off as a great movie, and ends up being a solid, good movie.

There are some really strong moments rolled up, but it feels as if some ingredients have simply been borrowed from even greater films.
Watching the film unfold, it is as if writer/director Sofia Coppola had written the main character, Bob Harris (Bill Murray), exclusively for Murray himself without exception. With the persona?s deadpan personality and quirky mannerisms, it allows the actor to take full charge and apply the charisma that was golden in movies like Rushmore (B+) and Groundhog Day (B+).

Murray delivers moments that are hysterical, but what?s missing in the film is a sense of original storytelling. Lost in Translation is really just numerous films of the past collected and compressed into one motion picture ? there are bits and pieces of Ghost World (A-), The Man Who Wasn?t There (B), Rushmore, and The Graduate (A-). Coincidentally, Scarlett Johansson, who plays opposite Murray in Lost in Translation, is also the co-star in Ghost World and Man Who Wasn?t There.

The title of Translation tells it all in a nutshell: this is a film about two characters who find themselves lost in their lives while in Japan ? their presence comforting each other. Murray plays a divorced father who?s staying in Tokyo in commitment to an ad placement deal; Johansson plays Charlotte, a young woman staying with her boyfriend, John (Giovanni Ribisi), who is a talented photographer. Bob and Charlotte meet at a bar and as time progresses, their relationship becomes close.

Lost in Translation is a mix of a character study as well as a quirky comedy about the uncertainties of life. Coppola, rather than ridiculing her characters? habits, aims to respect their views at the same time as permitting adequate pokes at their overall nature.

I coincidentally took another glance at Rushmore on the weekend before Lost in Translation opened, and regardless of critics? buzz, I feel that Murray?s performance in Translation is more so an extension of his role in Rushmore; he does a great job here, but it?s nothing new or groundbreaking. He?s a performer who?s not quite a character actor, but he seems to consistently nail this note pretty dead on.

Scarlott Johansson showed range beginning with Ghost World alongside Thora Birch, and continued that pattern once again in Man Who Wasn?t There, and supplies much of the same approach here. It?s somewhat of a depressed performance, but there?s enough of a new edge to differentiate in impact.

It?s hard to describe the effect of the movie, as a lot is conveyed through mood, performances, the sometimes-surreal cinematography, and the musical score. Story wise it felt like a journey down memory lane, but an experience worth revisiting; this is a familiar concept told intelligently by a filmmaker who doesn?t give in to the standard clich?s of its characters. These people have real lives and real dilemmas, with the details being expressed subtly rather than having them shoved into the viewer?s face.

Pondering Lost in Translation after it concluded, I was mixed on whether or not it was a good movie (B) or a great one (B+); and after thinking it, I wanted more from the story. Giovanni Ribisi was a welcoming presence, but when trying to explain to myself his precise meaning in the premise, I was having a tough time. He?s a good actor, but here the character is given a minimal amount of attention, making me curious as to why exactly he was sought out for the role. I craved additional time with his persona, causing the lack of his presence to be a slight letdown.

Along with that, Anna Faris (from the Scary Movie franchise) is starting to show up in some independent movies, with May (B) being a solid teen quirky drama of hers (though she co-starred), and now co-stars in Lost in Translation. More so than Ribisi, Farris matches the role despite not having much to do, but as their characters begin to flirt I demanded more attention to that subplot, which was never expanded.

Lost in Translation had me fairly convinced in the beginning that this was going to be a very successful character drama with chunks of hilarity, but Coppola doesn?t go the full distance that she could have. There are some interesting subplots she could have dove into, but she instead plays her notes on the obvious themes between Johansson and Murray?s characters. Their relationship is not a complaint, but rather, there were side components that were not quite developed that could?ve built a more profound film.

Lost in Translation isn?t entirely a go-home-happy Saturday night film, but it is a successful effort of mixing comedy and drama. Without Murray in this role, the balance between the two genres might have been unstable, as it is sometimes hard enough alone to look at him without cracking a smile. But in a sense, that is part of the point ? his life is on the brink of being pathetic, but the satire approach permits humor to flow.

Lost in Translation is a promising concept told well; it may feel like a recognizable story, but when they?re told intelligently, you can't really complain.
Lee's Grade: B+
Ranked #2 of 132 between Kill Bill 1 (#1) and Mystic River (#3) for 2003 movies.
Lee's Overall Grading: 3025 graded movies
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