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Picture Bill Murray
singing a devastatingly moving karaoke version of Roxy Musics "More Than
This." Its one of the many evocative scenes that make up Lost in
Translation, a film of sweet, surprising moments by director, writer and co-producer
Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides).
Again proving himself one of Americas most intelligent actors,
the underrated Murray is terrific as Bob Harris, a middle-aged, not quite washed-up
American movie star on a trip to Tokyo, where hes making a whiskey ad for Japanese
TV that will earn him $2 million for a few days' work. Murrays range is even more
apparent here than it was in plum roles in Rushmore
Day. No one does funny and sensitive better than Murray. Effortlessly, he makes
Bobs language problem with the commercials crass young director into a bit
thats as tickling as a slapstick battle he has with an exercise machine in the
luxury hotel where hes staying.
Yet hes heartbreakingly poignant, too, when he realizes during
mundane phone calls with his wife who is hounding him about color samples and home
decorating projects -- that his distance from his family is more than physical. Its
a performance worthy of major awards.
At the hotel bar, Bob meets twentysomething Charlotte (Scarlett
Johansson), who has accompanied her photographer husband John (Giovanni Ribisi) on a job
shooting rock stars that keeps him too busy to pay any attention to her. Johanssons
subtle depth matches, if not surpasses, her portrayal of a disaffected teen in Ghost World. She embodies
Charlottes thoughtfulness and her ambivalence about where she wants to go and what
she wants to do in life.
Even though their circumstances are wildly different, Bob and Charlotte
gradually strike up a friendship. Not only do they find a connection in feeling lost in a
strange place, little by little they realize they both face self-doubt and uncertainties.
Coppola and cinematographer Lance Acord capture how weird Tokyo can be
to an outsider. The cool, understated interior of the swanky hotel contrasts with the busy
cacophony of a strip club, a video game arcade and a restaurant where Bob and Charlotte
have fun trying to decipher the menu, with its puzzling pictures of lookalike dishes.
As she did in The Virgin Suicides, Coppola achieves a perfect
tone, bringing the underlying rhythms of daily life to the screen. Even though Lost in
Translation is only her second feature, she displays a maturity and originality not
often seen in films today. Charlotte and Bob make no grand gestures and have no
dramatic blowouts, yet Coppola expertly creates an undeniable tension between the two.
Its a rare exploration of a relationship that goes beyond the probability that the
couple will end up in bed together.
But the details, which flow like a simple string of pearls, are what
make the movie endearing from start to finish. Anna Faris of Scary
Movie fame is great as a vapid young actress on a publicity tour, while Catherine
Lambert nails her role as an opportunistic singer in the hotels cheesy lounge band,
Sausalito. Even funnier she croons "Midnight at the Oasis." The bit is
reminiscent of the over-the-top lounge singer Murray created on Saturday Night Live
more than two decades ago. Not only is Murray still making us laugh, hes breaking
our hearts with a quiet joy the kind that that real life is made of.
- Leslie Katz