Time: 102 mins.
Won Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Nominations for Best Actor (Murray), Best Director and Best Picture.
With her entrancing sophomore directorial effort completed, it seems that Ms. Coppola's artistic voice is better suited to expression behind the camera. This film is as lyrical and stylized as her first, (THE VIRGIN SUICIDES), but the story is more personal and seductive. It's hard to imagine the connection between oneself and the two searching souls onscreen and yet as the film unwinds the affinity becomes all too clear. You're not human if you've never felt invisible in your own life. Their disconnection from their worlds is painfully obvious for our two lead characters an aging movie star and an idle young wife left wallowing in a foreign country where they are constantly being emotionally and linguistically misunderstood. Both put on a brave face for the people around them he for his Japanese hosts, she for her busy, clueless husband (Ribisi) while pushing down the desperation to be seen for who they really are.
With nothing to do but waste time, Charlotte attempts to while away the lonely hours in a strange land waiting for her husband to return. Her insomnia only adds to her feelings of isolation and uselessness. Being able to explore exotic places is a rare treat for most, but isn't much fun when you're left to entertain yourself. She discovers an unlikely compatriot in Bob Harris, a man who should be happy and yet finds himself unable to connect with the person everyone expects him to be. The funny, talented actor is long gone, leaving a disappointed sell-out who's managed to keep his sense of humor while losing his dignity. Their initial connection is born out of boredom and lack of sleep, but quickly blossoms into something neither of them expected. Since they are strangers who are passing through each other's life, it's unnecessary for them to put on their "game face." As the week wears on, for a brief moment in time, they encounter true love on a surprisingly intimate level. Their parting is painful and uncomfortable, yet it's clear the experience has given them hope of finding some inner peace in their futures.
Much like VIRGIN SUICIDES, LOST IN TRANSLATION is a quiet, simple film that takes its' time to evolve and unwind its' meaning. It's about real people just trying to maneuver along the path they've somehow found themselves on. Though Murray's character is funny, his witty observations are situational, not merely one-liners thrown in to jazz up the script. He has never played a more honest and human character, giving a deeply touching and entrancing performance. His character is catered to, but not listened to and Charlotte's openness and curiosity break through his barrier of frustration. Johansson proves why she's one of the best young actresses around with her simple portrayal of a young woman who's a passenger in her own life. With no singular passion to give her time purpose and direction, she finds herself a mere accessory to her husband and his success. The endless hours breed a discontent with her existence, forcing her to take a hard look at the role she's playing in her unhappiness. The role is emotionally complex and Johansson nails Charlotte's bewilderment and anxiousness perfectly.
The fact that neither character ever crosses the line into self-pity is a testament to the brilliant script and wonderful acting. It would have been so easy to let them wallow, but Coppola makes them smarter and more self-aware than that. They haven't given up hope; they just know that life is harder than most people want to believe. Neither complains about their loneliness, but once they find a kindred spirit they have a hard time letting go. It's a rare thing in life to meet someone who truly understands the inner you. This film celebrates that sweet, uninhibited connection. Much of the humor comes at the expense of the Japanese culture, but the tale is clearly told from an outsider's point of view and not at all mean-spirited. Frankly, I'm sure she could have shown things that would have appeared even more wacky and outrageous. Without the disconnect to their immediate environment, these two people would never have unlocked their feelings or made such a life-altering friendship. I'm sure some viewers will find this film slow and pretentious, but I found it a refreshing look at the inner struggles we all face to gain control and acceptance over our lives. For those who don't mind a movie that makes them think.