I watched Lost in Translation the other night. I read a number of reviews of the film at the time that it was released, and all of them were positive. Several friends of mine have seen it, and (with one exception) also had great things to say about it. So I was expecting to like it.
And I did. But.
Hmmm. But. But at some very key moments it felt not quite baked. The acting was generally impressive- particularly Bill Murray, who was just amazing as Bob Harris, an aging action film star in Japan to be overpaid to promote a Japanese whiskey. Scarlett Johansson is Charlotte, the young and neglected wife of a celebrity photographer played by Giovanni Ribisi. Johansson was great in the role (though I kept remembering the recently read declaration on a blog that she is the hottest thing in movies today. She reminded me strongly to van Gogh's painting The Potato Eaters.) Ribisi was uncomfortable. I know he was supposed to be, and man, did he ever make me ache with discomfort for how hard he tries. But it was so over the top it left me wondering how the hell he'd gotten the photography gig in the cutthroat celeb photography world that sent him to Japan in the first place.
There were a few minor jumps in the story line that I found distracting. Things that didn't quite fit. And there were some moments, like the uncomfortable Ribisit performance, that were a little over the top. The Japanese photographer was a little too "weird, Japanese artist." Like imagining Yoko Ono as a young, male photographer instead of a performance artist who wears white and goes "YIPE!YIPE!YIPE!" on her records. The non-translation of the woman negotiating the session with the hipster photographer was a bit of a cliche- the photographer babbles on for a painfully long time, giving intricate explanation of what he is looking for, and the woman says "he says-eu, moh intensity."
But there were also moments that were just precious. The lost conversation that Charlotte has in a phone call from home- saying how great Japan is even while she feels completely at sea and abandoned in the weird and scary forest of Tokyo. The image of Bob Harris singing karaoke. The wacky scenes of "Charlie Brown" dancing about (he reminded me greatly of a Korean artist I used to know in Brooklyn).
There has been a lot of discussion of Sofia Coppola's talents as a director. I like her eye and ear for muted human interaction. And I was really impressed with the Virgin Suicides. But in this film she almost feels like she's stepped backwards instead of forwards; like she is again trying to find her own voice. The way Coppola slides the audience from one mood to another by meshing music and movement (often the open face of a car passenger looking out the back window) made me think more than once (and more than twice) of Wes Anderson, but more pained, less wry. And less smooth. At times I was even brought back to the agony of film school, and of all those late nights trying to get something in the can; and then of all those late nights trying to make the stuff in the can come to life. For a few brief, fleeting moments, watching Lost in Translation brought me back to watching those film school movies.
I'll be on the lookout for Coppola's next project.