Plenty of people will tell you to run to “Lost in Translation;” I, however, am not telling you to walk. I’m telling you to run in the other direction and SAVE YOURSELF!
Now, by all means, if you want to spend an hour and a half of your valuable time watching an excruciatingly subtle movie that shows not the slightest bit of emotion, this could be your movie. Some people take pleasure in seeing movies like this because they, in some form or fashion, feel like they have power because the filmmaker has let them fill in the emotional blanks. I like movies that show people living their lives, no matter how dismal or boring that may be. Sofia Coppola gives us in this movie a portrait of two people who might as well be dead because they show such few signs of life.
It’s a 90-minute movie that feels like 90 hours in moviewatching hell – or, as Coppola sees it, Japan. We get to see plenty of a much younger Scarlett Johansson (here in her breakout role), but if you want to go ScarJo watching, there are plenty of magazines and websites for that. In “Lost in Translation,” Coppola gives us these ten minute asides of Johansson visiting various tourist locations looking perplexed and bored to tears. I’ll give her that she really communicates the later of the two emotions to the audience, as our impatient American mind yells, “GET ON WITH IT! SEE THE DARNED SIGHTS AND GET THE PLOT MOVING!”
The movie drags on following two bored souls in Japan, the photographer’s wife left to stew in her own juices played by Johansson and a burnt-out alcoholic actor played admirably by Bill Murray. I won’t pretend like Murray deserved a Razzie for his work here because it wasn’t awful. But in terms of the kind of performances the Oscars have rewarded and nominated in the past decade, this just falls short of expectations. In essence, it’s Murray playing the same character we’ve laughed at for two decades, only now we are supposed to pity him because this funny guy has suddenly turned vapid.
The two strike up friendship unexpectedly and begin to converse on occasion. Talking makes up only about a third of the movie, however. Coppola left me wondering how on earth I’m expected to buy their relationship, but more importantly, why I should care an iota. I’ve been more invested in the characters that populate corny romantic comedies than this, something that should not be able to describe any Best Picture nominee. The counteracting of my argument is that Coppola is using the European technique of letting the dialogue provide the mood and the emotions to tell the story. I have no problem with this, but “Lost in Translation” is so frigidly distant that I felt there was never an opportunity to make any sort of connection to it.
By the time the movie wrapped up, I could have cared less about how to interpret the open-ended conclusion. It’s as painfully reserved and wistfully distant as the shy kid in middle school. All politeness aside, that’s NOT the person I want to spend my valuable time with. The Coppola last name is the stuff of legends, and it’s a shame that Sofia can just tote it around because she was born with it, not because she truly earned it.