In the Mood for Language

Lost in Translation.gifSofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” can be said to be a shallow exercise in style. First, it’s clearly a savvy assembly of key touchpoints for a specific niche of the New Thirtysomethings. Its characters, milieu and tone constitute an almost exquisitely calculated dream combination of many hallmarks of hipster elitism: a fascination with the idiosyncrasies of urban Japanese culture, the dissonance of semi-obscure British pop, the watercolor kinetics of Wong Kar Wai’s films, the mannered understatement of naturalistic acting, the ironic wisecracks of Bill Murray, and the irresistibility of adorable young actresses who spend a lot of time appearing in indie films.

All of these things possess an unimpeachable street cred, and yet, their confluence in this film has an overbearing quality. It’s as if Coppola is determined to illustrate her impeccable taste; any movie that gives a prominent role to a My Bloody Valentine song (and even employs Kevin Shields for original music) is making an unmistakable declaration of its own sophisticated, conspicuous eclecticism.

On the other hand, “Lost in Translation” is much, much more than the sum of its parts. This is mostly owing to two things: First, Coppola’s canny, almost pitch-perfect ability to synthesize these elements into a uniform, intoxicating mood. She’d already established this talent with her debut film, “The Virgin Suicides,” but only to the extent that she was able to make a confident statement of independence from the legacy of her father’s career. “Suicides,” though assured, was heady but not thoughtful, and full of emotion but not particularly deep.

This is not the case with her follow-up, mostly thanks to Bill Murray, an actor who has been hinting at something profound and monumental for years, but whose films — whether by virtue of limited screen time, limited scriptwriting or his own limited sense of commitment — have always left us wanting more. Murray finally delivers the performance that we’ve all been begging for: a nuanced, high-wire balancing of cutting hilarity and harrowing desperation. Coppola tailors this movie’s alternate reality of privileged tourism to fit Murray like a fine suit, and he looks, sounds, sighs, glares, pauses and quips amazingly, with great, great heart. It’s a wonderful, riveting performance and it makes the film more than just a mood; it makes it remarkable.


One Comment

  1. Interesting and good review. I almost thought you didn’t like it in the beginning. And it’s good that you started off that way because I never thought that it may have been directed towards a hipster crowd aesthetically.

    It is a wonderful movie.

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