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Lost in Translation

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 09/12/03 15:04:41

"Bill Murray continues his perpetual evolution."
5 stars (Awesome)

Character studies are, for the most part, a tough sell to a wide audience. The same moviegoers who gripe about sequel after crappy sequel generally don't drop eight bucks for a ticket to a quiet little "people movie". And while it's true that films like "Lost in Translation" often work just as well on the small screen as on the large...it's important to donate a few sawbucks to the quiet little "people movies". If something like "Lost in Translation" makes some sort of profit...we may get more quality films somewhere down the road.

Everyone loves Bill Murray. Aging people with youthful minds (yes, like me) remember Murray with nothing but great fondness from his performances in classic comedies like Caddyshack, Meatballs, Stripes and Ghostbusters while newer fans are introduced to his back catalog by way of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Ed Wood. Hardcore Murray mavens will point to underrated gems like Quick Change, Scrooged, What About Bob? and Groundhog Day while general moviegoers may recognize Murray as the colorful character actor populating the background of flicks like Charlie's Angels, Wild Things and Little Shop of Horrors. Heck, even the kids might know his face, if only from diversions like Space Jam and Osmosis Jones.

Like I said...everybody loves Bill Murray.

Clearly screenwriter/director Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides) also loves Bill Murray. It's evident in every frame of Lost in Translation, a "people movie" so personal and touching that I suspect Murray starts earning some actual "Oscar Buzz" come December. Though this is hardly Bill Murray's first foray into "serious acting", it would take a hearty film freak to successfully recall Murray's turns in stuff like The Razor's Edge or Cradle Will Rock...but trust me when I tell you the guy's a damn underrated performer.

Plus we're currently living in a universe that credits Murray's old SNL alum Dan Aykroyd as an Oscar Nominee, so don't scoff when I mention Murray and the Academy Award in the same breath. Much of this could just be a lifelong admiration of the guy spilling forth, but Bill Murray is simply brilliant in Lost in Translation. Period.

Murray plays aging actor Bob Harris, a formerly-A list Hollywood presence who has traveled to Tokyo to perform in a series of liquor ads. Estranged from his wife, alienated from his children, and a thousand miles away from any familiar face, Bob spends his off-time (which is plentiful) holding down a stool at the dimly-lit hotel bar. In between bouts of drunkenness and insomnia, Bob becomes friendly with another supplanted American; a pretty young woman named Charlotte (as played wonderfully by Scarlett Johansson of Ghost World) who has traveled to Japan with her harried fashion photographer of a husband.

And plotwise that's basically it..but in a very good way. Lost in Translation is not even remotely concerned with the double entendres that seem to inevitably attach themselves to any story about an older guy and a younger gal. There are no conveniently push-button plot contrivances, no story threads telegraphed early on only to sprout up later and cause trouble, and none of the tiresome antics that would come were the film created by someone interested solely in yuks and smarm. Lest I leave you thinking that Lost in Translation is dry and bereft of fun, let me allay that suspcion; there are several effective moments of humor but they spring from moments of character and mood, not set-up and punchline.

Lost in Translation is a quietly involving and altogether beautiful little film; it deftly alleges that everyone out there has, at one time or another, become close friends with a faraway traveling companion - only to feel a sharp tug of regret when vacation time is over and "real life" must begin again. The emotions here are more deep than "Aw poor lonely Bill Murray needs a friend and I hope he finds one"; the film quietly speaks volumes about the importance of friendship and the universal need for a familiar face, an affectionate rub on the shoulder or a secret nod from across a crowded room.

Despite beginning her Hollywood career in infamously noteworthy fashion (many consider her Godfather Part 3 performance as some sort of sin against humanity), Sofia Coppola is now 2 for excellent 2 behind the camera. As one sits and enjoys her latest film, it's not difficult to imagine how the daughter of a world-famous filmmaker must have spent more than a few lonely nights at various hotels around the world. That she was able to translate this so pitch-perfectly while giving one of Hollywood's most underrated talents such a fantastic role could be a great argument for the filmmaking gene being hereditary. If she keeps this up, she'll soon have created as many excellent films as her father has...in a much shorter amount of time.

You'll see it because you love Bill Murray. But somewhere about halfway through you'll realize that you're watching something much more than a dramatic vehicle for Hollywood's clown prince. "Lost in Translation" should play on a continuous loop in every hotel room on the planet - as a bittersweet reminder that everyone gets lonely on their own.

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