Sofia Coppola, the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, the director of THE GODFATHER movies, actually appeared in a major role in the third GODFATHER movie. She is now a director in her own right and won her share of critical acclaim for her first movie, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES. Her second movie, LOST IN TRANSLATION, starring comic genius Bill Murray, is another accomplished work, though it’s not without its flaws.
In the story, Murray plays Bob Harris, a popular movie star who arrives in Tokyo to shoot a series of whiskey commercials. Harris feels completely out of place among the Japanese, however. Worse yet, jet lag has brought on an unquenchable bout of insomnia, so he spends his time swimming in the pool, watching TV and drinking in the bar.
Harris finds a companion in Charlotte, a young woman also suffering from insomnia whose husband is working feverishly on a long photo shoot with some rock stars. Both Harris and Charlotte feel cut off from their spouses, and they find they share a wry, slightly cynical approach to the crazy people and situations around them. A strong friendship ensues, and, though both are attracted to one another, nothing really happens between them except for a passionate goodbye kiss.
LOST IN TRANSLATION is about a man and a woman who have much in common intellectually, but are separated in age. At times, the movie seems to pose questions about the nature of human feelings and how those feelings should or should not be expressed. Beyond the romantic tension between the lead characters, however, there are scenes where the two just share a good time exploring the strange city landscape and where the older man talks to the younger woman as a mentor or substitute father figure. For example, when Charlotte questions Harris about married life, Harris, who has been married for 25 years, tells her that it doesn’t get any easier.
The most entertaining, fun parts of this movie are when Bill Murray applies his usual understated comic approach to the people and situations around his character, or when he’s joking with Charlotte and her Japanese friends. Though the movie avoids the modern Hollywood cliché of the May-September love affair, it’s clear that the older man is working hard not to take advantage of his relationship with Charlotte. Eventually, however, his isolation drives him to commit adultery with the terrible lounge singer at the hotel.
Sofia Coppola is clearly a talented filmmaker, but her first two movies avoid the classic three-act structure that most great movies possess. Both VIRGIN SUICIDES and LOST IN TRANSLATION are modern character studies rather than dramatic stories having a beginning, middle, and an end. Thus, while it’s always nice to see Bill Murray in a good, well-defined role, LOST IN TRANSLATION does not fully succeed. It seems to lack a dramatic premise that carries the story through to a convincing, captivating climax.
Finally, although the movie does not endorse adultery, it flirts with the subject. In doing this, it includes a couple scenes with sexual content, plus nudity, especially one scene where Charlotte’s Japanese friends have Harris and Charlotte meet them at a Japanese strip club.
Please address your comments to:
David Linde and James Schamus
100 North Crescent Drive, Garden Level
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Phone: (310) 385-4000
Fax: (310) 385-4408
SUMMARY: LOST IN TRANSLATION stars comic actor Bill Murray as a popular movie star who finds a female friend while visiting Tokyo, Japan. Bill Murray is very entertaining, but the story lacks a dramatic premise, and the movie contains some sexual elements and nudity, although the affair between the leading couple remains unrequited, except for one passionate goodbye kiss.
(H, Pa, L, V, SS, NN, A, D, M) Humanist worldview about an unrequited relationship between two people married to others, including woman visits pagan Buddhist ritual performed in Japanese and gets nothing out of it; six obscenities and two light profanities; brief slapstick violence as woman falls and rolls around on floor; implied adultery, married man kisses married woman goodbye and whispers something unheard in her ear, and nude dancers at club dance suggestively; upper and rear female nudity and upper male nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, married leads are emotionally estranged from their families.