Lost in Translation (2003) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for some sexual content and language
Running time: 102 min.

Cast: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Anna Faris, Giovanni Ribisi, Catherine Lambert
Sofia Coppola
Screenplay: Sofia Coppola
Review published May 17, 2004

Ten years before the release of Lost in Translation, Bill Murray (Charlie's Angels, Rushmore) opted to star in a light romantic comedy, Groundhog Day, and although I'm a big fan of Murray's schmoozy slapstick flicks, I just shook my head when thinking of him as a leading man.  I thought, "C'mon, Bill.  You are fun to watch, but no one's going to buy someone falling head over heels in love with you.  Don't do it!"  Well, he did it, and not only did Murray make you believe he could make someone fall in love with him, his performance was so charming, he made you wonder who wouldn't?

Groundhog Day wwould go on to be one of the best films of 1993, and ranks among my favorite romantic comedies of all time.  Even so, my hindsight must not be so good, as here he is again, but this time into his 50s, playing opposite 18-year-old Johansson (Eight Legged Freaks, Ghost World), in a film that's not even billed as a romance, and I'll be damned if he doesn't make you believe a young girl would fall for him.  Two films, two different decades, and Bill Murray has already staked a claim as the one of the finest romantic comedians of our generation.  Not bad for a guy who has never aspired to be one.

Murray is a former big-time American movie star who has seen his popular days behind him, but still well-known enough to land him spots in commercials in Tokyo, Japan.  Johansson plays the young wife of an up-and-coming, talented photographer (ibisi), who finds her time in Japan to be full of boredom and loneliness, without many people who speak her language to talk to.  Through casual run-ins, the two English-speakers form an unlikely friendship, providing each other with much needed entertainment while strangers in a strange land.  Although their only happiness with each other, there is also sadness, as their friendship is destined to be short-lived, as Murray is slated to go back home after his commercial stint is over.

For a film rich in characters and funny moments, Lost in Translation is a surprisingly quiet, contemplative endeavor, applying a very subtle touch in its humor.  The humor is achieved, not through sight gags or broadly played roles, but in the three-dimensional portrayals by the two leads.  We laugh because we feel like we are watching real people in real situations, and if for even an instance the film would lose credibility to go for the easy laugh, the facade of truth would all be lost. 

CCredit goes to Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette) for applying a beautifully soft touch to this funny, poignant, and in the end, moving tale of friendships that form among people who, through misery, love each other's company.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo