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Kelly, John, and Lydia (Anna Faris, Giovanni Ribisi, Nancy Steiner)
Lost in Translation is Bob and Charlotte's movie. These other three characters exist almost solely to help us understand Bob and Charlotte better. We're not supposed to be interested in what makes them tick or why, in the case of Kelly, she has "the worst B.O. right now."
Let's start with Kelly, not because she's so ripe, but because she's the most over-the-top. Kelly is the anti-Charlotte. While Charlotte is thoughtful, anxious, and even brooding at times, Kelly is bright, happy, and vapid. She's a totally not anorexic ray of California sunshine that brightens up the Park Hyatt, whether that's warbling through a karaoke song in the bar or giving "deep" non-answers to questions at her Maximum Velocity press conference.
When Kelly first bumps into John and Charlotte in the lobby, and launches into a bubbly "OMG!"-off with John, Charlotte looks at Kelly and John like they're from Themisto, Jupiter's 18th largest moon. When Kelly tells John that she's registered at the hotel under the pseudonym Evelyn Waugh, mispronouncing his name and thinking he's a she, Charlotte can't help but point out the obtuseness of it.
JOHN: Oh, come on. She's nice. What? You know, not everybody went to Yale. It's just a pseudonym, for Christ's sake.
And you know what? For all of our bagging on Kelly, she is nice. Charlotte can't sleep because she's got so much on her mind; for Kelly, ignorance is bliss.
We know from Charlotte's phone call to Lauren that Charlotte feels like she and John are drifting apart. The insipid, superficial Hollywood lifestyle that Kelly represents may just be the orbit that John's being pulled into. Exhibit A: the increased use of hair product that troubles Charlotte:
LAUREN: How's Tokyo?
CHARLOTTE: It's great here. It's really great, um… I don’t know; I went to this shrine today, and, um, there were these monks, and they were chanting, and I didn't feel anything, you know? And, um, I don’t know… I even tried Ikebana, and John is using these hair products. I just, I don't know who I married.
She married a hipster who's really into his job, that's who she married. He wears sweatbands 24/7 and sunglasses indoors. He shoots rock bands in Tokyo. He's one fixie away from living the hipster dream. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, except that it's not Charlotte's dream, and they're supposed to be in this whole "happily ever after" thing together.
What we don’t know is their backstory: what attracted John to Charlotte and vice versa, what he was like before the time depicted in the film. Other than the fact that he didn’t used to use hair products, it’s a mystery. Regardless, when we meet him, he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d marry a Yale grad writer.
OTOH, Scarlett Johansson. In a decidedly non-glam turn, but still.
John doesn't so much talk to Charlotte as he talks at her. Aside from when they meet Kelly for drinks, a social engagement from which Charlotte promptly bolts, John and Charlotte are only together when he's sleeping or getting ready to leave for work. We don't know for certain if he's good or bad at his flashy photography job, but we do know that he is all about it—to the detriment of his marriage.
It's fitting that we never see Bob's wife, Lydia. She’s a voice on the phone, and that kinda sums up the degree of intimacy she and Bob have. We get the sense that Lydia and Bob haven't really seen each other in a long time. Lydia's phone calls about carpet samples and kids serve two functions.
First, they show us the real world that Bob's grown tired of. The practical side of things that's ground him down. The reason why he's pocketing two million bucks for a Suntory whisky commercial instead of doing a fulfilling yet less lucrative play somewhere.
We're not indicting Lydia here; we're just saying real life has a nasty habit of getting in the way of emotional intimacy in marriage. In any relationship, really.
But let's be real for a second: Bob gets paid insane amounts of money to wear makeup and talk about whisky. He gets to travel, see the world, and meet new people. He's not a participant in the "real" world; he's an aging movie star. What's he moaning about, right? That's what Lydia seems to think:
LYDIA: Look, I'm glad you're having fun.
BOB: It's not fun. It's just very, very different.
LYDIA: Maybe that's good. I have to get the kids off for school, okay? So can I call you in a while?
BOB: I might not be up. It's like 4:00.
LYDIA: You better get some sleep; you have work in the morning.
BOB: No, actually, they gave me tomorrow off.
LYDIA: That must be nice.
When her husband calls her after staying out partying 'til 4:00 in the morning, and she's trying to get their kids ready for school, we can kind of see why Lydia's not champing at the bit to see which song Bob belted out at karaoke.
Lydia seems just as stuck and unhappy as Bob is, and she's right there in the thick of the dismal, day-to-day routine, redecorating their house and making lunches. That's why, when Bob tries to open up to her, she's kind of a butt:
LYDIA: Look, your burgundy carpet isn’t in stock. It's gonna take 12 weeks. Did you like any of the other colors?
BOB: Whatever you like. I'm completely lost.
LYDIA: It's just carpet.
BOB: That's not what I'm talking about.
LYDIA: What are you talking about?
BOB: I don’t know. I just want to get healthy. I want to take better care of myself. I would like to start eating healthier. I don't want all that pasta. I would like to start eating like Japanese food.
LYDIA: Well, why don’t you just stay there, and you can have it every day.
Lydia’s probably exhausted, and feeling just as lonely and isolated as Bob. This isn't what she signed up for either, and as Bob rapidly reevaluates his life and what he wants out of it, Lydia’s one of the most important things Bob needs to navigate. How does he move forward with her? Does he move forward with her? We hope so. If what Bob tells Charlotte is true, Lydia and Bob used to have fun together.
BOB: We used to have a lot of fun. Lydia would come with me when I made the movies, and we would laugh about it all. Now she doesn't want to leave the kids, and she doesn't need me to be there. The kids miss me, but they're fine. It gets a whole lot more complicated when you have kids.
Having to care about others more than they care about themselves—i.e., having rugrats—has ground Lydia and Bob's marriage down to a fine paste of dissatisfaction and dark circles under the eyes.
The good news is, there's still time for Bob and Lydia to jumpstart their stalled marriage before they hit their golden years. We don’t know what Bob whispers to Charlotte at the end of the movie, but he leaves in a super-awesome mood. His trip to Japan has changed him. Here's hoping he takes some of that Shibuya energy back to Lydia so they can renovate more than just their house.
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