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Understood Loud and Clear

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.

Other though:
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.

  1. Johannson was also quite good in American Rhapsody, where she did have more of a leading role as well.

  2. > The Academy doesn’t take young actors seriously for such honors.

    Really? What about Hilary Swank? Or, considering that Johannson would probably get get nominated as a supporting actor, Angelina Jolie and Anna Paquin?

  3. I meant specifically for Best Actress in a Leading Role… If they were to try to get Scarlet nominated for Actress in a Supporting Role, it would be quite an indignity. She has, as much screen time as he does!

    And you’re right about Hilary Swank. And, I suppose you could Halle Berry, though she was a bit older. And Gwyneth, etc. etc. I guess I was rash.

  4. But it is true that they don’t take young MALE actors seriously for the awards–I heard but can’t be bothered to look up that the youngest actor to ever win Best Actor was about 30. (Though they do nominate younger ones.)

  5. The Old Actor’s Wife is not present on screen and exists only as a disembodied and unloving voice.

    The Old Actor is a professional pretender and lonely, hollow faker.

    The Photographer is a self-absorbed adventurer who loves his work, equipment and Young Bride, in that order.

    The Young Bride is a pupa emerging into a butterfly.

    The Old Actor is a point of one triangle with the Wife and the Young Bride. The Old Actor is also a point on another triangle with the Photographer and the Young Bride.

    Curiously, the Old Actor is incapable of acting. He can only react, and watch his own, sad performance.

    The one thing he doesn’t react to, however, is the appealing invitation to sex with the Young Bride. With apologies to peterme, Bob does not break the leash, he can only offer a sincere goodbye to an opportunity to change the drab life he is existentially unable to escape. The smile on his face as he gets back in the limo seems to suggest an ironic resignation to his permanent, cushily carpeted, convict state.

    It is a bittersweet, but all-to-accurate ending. The Old Actor rides in the black limousine to oblivion while the Young Bride goes on, as we know to become an award winning Young Film Director.

  6. hello! did you forget that sad bob has KIDS? there’s more here at stake than just HIMSELF, including charlotte’s life, marriage, her tender age, and his responsibilities. although it is romantic to think that only HE is involved, it is not that simple when others are also involved, not just an isolated ego.

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