Last night I went to see LOST IN TRANSLATION. It’s nearly as good as everyone says. It’s a thoughtfully-paced character study that, remarkably, never bores. It helps to have Bill Murray — film cameras love Bill Murray, and Bill Murray loves film cameras. And while he’s been earning deserved accolades, his performance isn’t really all that surprising — he’s done just as well in films like GROUNDHOG DAY or RUSHMORE.
Scarlet Johannson, on the other hand, shines brightly in a way we’ve not seen her before. Folks will be familiar with her good work in GHOST WORLD and THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE. But she was always a supporting character. In this film, she does work worthy of a Best Actress nod. (Not that she’ll get it. The Academy doesn’t take young actors seriously for such honors.) Charlotte (Scarlet’s character) is the emotional heart of the film. If Scarlet’s performance doesn’t pan out, the film simply wouldn’t work, and no amount of Bill Murray’s mugging could save it. But Scarlet maintains her intensity, her hold on you (and on Bob), letting you believe everything you see on the screen.
For those who’ve seen the movie, I’m including more commentary in the extended entry of this post….
One thing that no critic has mentioned is that Bill Murray’s character is essentially impotent. He might be a rich and famous movie star, but his life is driven by others, all women — his wife choosing carpet colors, Charlotte buying him a drink and inviting him to hang out with friends, the call girl demanding he “lip my stocking,” the women who lead him around as he does his work duties, the singer who picks him up at the bar.
Charlotte is dynamic, and the heart of the film, because she does her own thing. While Bob is being poked, prodded, tucked, and directed, Charlotte’s learning ikebana, or visiting temples. Charlotte has the nerve to buy him a drink, the idea to drag him out to hang out with friends.
It makes the end of the movie all the more poignant. It’s not just Bob getting out of a taxi to say one last goodbye. It’s Bob, for the first time in the entire film, acting on his own impulses, exerting his own free will, breaking free of the leash he’d been letting himself be lead by.
Critics have been giving Giovanni Ribisi’s character an unfair rap. He is most definitely *not* the problem in their relationship. He’s dopey, sure, and work-obsessed. But he clearly loves Charlotte. Charlotte’s malaise has far less to do with him than with herself.