I just bought Lost in Translation. When I saw it in the theater, I was like, well, it was ok, but the screnplay didn't seem Academy Award Best Original Screenplay nomination worthy, and I felt like the ending was a cop-out. An hour later, I felt like the ending was just perfect. Two hours after that, I felt like it was an awesome movie totally deserving of an Academy Award, and I was very pleased later it did win.
So anyway, when I was in Las Vegas, we rented Love Actually, and there was some discussion of how the people I was visiting, they'd rented LiT and were bored and hated it. I certainly knew it was slow, and I wouldn't be surprised if people were bored with it, but I do wonder whether it's a lot rougher seeing it on DVD, where you're free to be distracted, compared to a theater where you'll have a higher threshhold for putting up with the slowness.
Anyway, the LV discussion reminded me I wanted to get it, so I picked it up, and watched it a couple days ago. And as I watched it, I again felt it was a little slow, I felt a little bored, and then they finally meet and it becomes fairly engaging, but at the end I was kind of like, well, it was kind of fun, but I'm not sure it's really worth that second watching, there wasn't that much impact. Maybe a movie I'll watch every three or four years or something.
Then the next day I dropped it in to watch it again. Not that I felt an inexplicable compulsion; I was just sort of curious what impact it would have. I figured maybe I'd watch it more from a technical standpoint, thinking about how it was made, how the actors were doing what they were doing. Instead I found myself still entranced by the performances and amazed by the structure of the writing.
I'm going to go into a little pedantic detail about the story--I'm not sure this is very productive but I want to put some things in words and see where it goes.
When I first saw the movie in the theater, one thing I came away with was being totally impressed with how subtly the movie "raised the stakes" by putting Bob and Charlotte's relationship in jeopardy via Bob's hookup with the lounge singer. Suddenly, this thing which everybody could think or pretend was a platonic, friendly relationship was revealed to have had a lot more tension behind it. But it was entirely unspoken. Bob realizes his screwup, Charlotte reacts to it, and there can be no doubt. (Except for the people on the IMDB forums saying 'I didn't understand the final kiss. Wasn't the whole point of the movie that it was just a friendship??!?!?')
I discovered on further viewing that I was both wrong and right. There is some explicit vocal comment on the situation; at lunch, Charlotte says something like, "Well, at least she is closer to your age" and comments about how they must share memories of the fifties and etc. (Bob snarks back, "wasn't there anyone there to lavish you with attention?", which means there's some plot point I'm missing here, about why exactly Bob and Charlotte weren't hanging out that night (Bob seems to be referring to something specific with that "there"), which did confuse me, after he went to all that effort to stick around and do the wacky TV show.)
However, "closer" is the only verbal hint to this whole thing. (Without it, her other comments about the lounge singer could even be interpreted as criticizing Bob for cheating on his wife instead of complaining about him cheating on Charlotte.). It's all just said in their expressions, and in the scenario. In some sense, it's Bob's guilty running to answer the door that says it all, that lays out what the reality of the situation is. I do think Charlotte's reaction to hearing the singer inside is remarkably played by Johannson; she tries to downplay it, joke about it, and as she turns away you can see how hurt she is. But I think even if it hadn't been that clearly acted we'd still get the moment simply because of the story construction; the movie has arranged events to make it clear that this is a significant event, and that's about the only way to interpret it.
One of the things I really liked about it, on rewatching and knowing where it was all going, was how clear it is the first few times they meet that, on the surface, Charlotte and Bob really have nothing in common, and the movie never really backs away from that position. They seem to develop a fondness for one another simply because they're both likeable and can use the company; they do find some basis for discussion when they go deeper later, but nothing on the surface. This is even played out by their continuing predominantly solo activities; Bob goes and plays golf, and Charlotte does more cultural exploration and it pays off better this time. (As a matter of fact, much of what they do when together at restaurants etc. is have Bob make jokes and Charlotte chuckle at them. While I enjoy the jokes and I love the fact that Charlotte laughs at them, it kind of makes it hard to belive Bob is supposed to be an action movie star not a comic movie star.)
Some of the plot points that lead to them getting together are slightly inexplicable, but this is so far off from your normal movie meet cute that it's entirely forgiveable. To lay this out explicitly:
- Bob sees Charlotte in an elevator; she smiles briefly. (Then later doesn't remember the incident--presumably she didn't recognize him or something.)
- Across the lounge, they share a look of disbelief over the lounge singer and her performance of Scarborough Fair. She jokingly sends him a little bowl of... something. (This connection between them seemed a little odd. I guess he recognizes her from the elevator and that's why he pays attention to her.)
- He's sitting at the bar and she comes down and has a drink. They chat; Bob has his moment of honesty admitting to his advertising, she mentions her philosophy degree, he tells her "I'm sure you'll figure out the angles", she says "Good luck with your porsche", and that's it--it looks like they could continue sitting there at the bar without any further conversation because they've exhausted all reasonable conversation. (Actually they cap it with "I wish I could sleep." "Me too.", revealing one thing they have in common.)
- She goes down to the lounge to chat with her husband and the flaky actress. She spies him at the bar, goes over to say hi--hands in her pockets. A generic, "So, you having a nice time?" He makes the prison break joke, and she says "I'm In". It's just a little teasing joke, but it seems that they both realize that they're not having much fun here.
- Coming back from the pool, Charlotte runs into Bob heading for the pool. Again, there's nothing really to say. Bob says something about how it's a nice pool, and Charlotte agrees. Out of the blue, Charlotte invites Bob with her to visit her friends. This is the weirdest moment in the story. As I said, I'm happy to be charitable here. Perhaps she sees Bob as an ally--another native English speaker--and she doesn't know Charlie Brown and his friends all that well. Perhaps she knows how little fun Bob is having and hopes that what she's offering will actually entertain him. Perhaps she's just taking a gamble on... something. All I'm saying is that, as it actually plays out on screen, I don't really buy her asking him. I'm not sold from what I've seen up to that moment that that action is in character for her. On the other hand, the whole thing with sending him the bowl of whatever earlier suggests that she is going to be the one who takes action, who is a little impulsive. So it's not entirely impossible. I just feel like it's possible the character could be in a position to do that, but that the movie didn't really convince me that's where the character was, and since the whole story hinges on that moment, it could have used stronger support, instead of just feeling like 'now this plot beat must happen so that there is a story'.