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Overall Rating

Awesome: 15.38%
Worth A Look: 30.77%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 7.69%

1 review, 7 user ratings

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Love Song for Bobby Long, A
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Travolta helps himself to plenty of Southern-fried scenery"
3 stars

Although a career consisting of the likes of “Battlefield Earth,” “The Punisher” and at least two talking baby movies too many would seem to suggest otherwise, John Travolta has never made any secret of his desire to win an Academy Award (in the current “Premiere,” he makes a claim about “Paul Newman whispering in my ear during the “Pulp Fiction” Oscar night that he wanted me to win–and he was up against me. I felt like the Old Guard was wanting me to have it.”). The problem with this is that it has led him to appear in a number of films that seem to have been crafted for no other reason than to attempt to snag nominations–titles such as “White Man’s Burden,” “Phenomenon,” “Mad City,” “A Civil Action” and the recent “Ladder 49 –by allowing him to indulge in the kind of noble narcissism that tries so hard to move viewers that it winds up turning them off instead. The irony in all of this is the fact that his best performances, the ones that really demonstrate his skills as a performer, are in darker, funkier movies that have not a shred of nobility in them; his only two nominations to date, in fact, were for two such films, “Saturday Night Fever” and “Pulp Fiction,” and similar performances in “Get Shorty” and “Blow Out” (the single greatest piece of work he has ever done) deserved them as well.

You would think that with such evidence at hand, he would stop with the obvious Oscar Bait roles and look for something along the lines of those triumphs. Apparently not, for in “A Love Song for Bobby Long,” he gets to play a part that seems precision-crafted for awards consideration–he gets to play aging, alcoholic and Southern all at once–and delivers one of the most shamelessly Oscar-courting performances since Jodie Foster appeared in “Nell.” He tries so hard, in fact, that he winds up working against the movie itself and turns what might have been a slight-but-charming slice-of-life into a portrait of hambone nonsense that almost needs to be seen to be believed.

It Girl Scarlett Johansson stars as Pursy Will, a trailer-trash girl who learns as the film opens that her estranged mother has just passed away. Returning to New Orleans, she arrives at her mother’s old house and discovers that it is currently inhabited by two strangers, Bobby Long (Travolta), an alcoholic ex-professor, and his alcoholic “protégée” Lawson (Gabriel Macht). According to them, Pursy’s mother left each of them a third of the colorfully dilapidated house. Pursy is appalled at the idea of living with two strange drunks and immediately decides to leave, which of course means that she will return to settle in no more than five minutes of screen time later. As she settles in, she begins to learn unknown things about both her mother and herself from the townspeople (for whom Mom was some kind of saint) and her new housemates, leading up to any number of twists, triumphs and tragedies that will come as a shock to precious few in the audience.

The problem with the film is not the rote predictability of the screenplay and direction by Shainee Gabel; although it has many of the common flaws of a first film (mainly the fact that it goes on forever), she does occasionally capture the laid-back rhythms of the South and Johansson and Macht eventually develop a nice on-screen rapport. No, the problem is that she has allowed Travolta to indulge in the kind of scenery-chewing histrionics that wind up subverting whatever small joys the film might have had. With his goofy white hair, goofier accent and self-consciously literary manner of speaking, he comes off less like an authentic character and more like an average dope auditioning to appear in a off-off-off-Broadway revival of “Tru.” Imagine the flamboyant turn that Tom Hanks delivered in “The Ladykillers,” only played seriously instead of for laughs, and you have John Travolta in this film.

Without Travolta’s presence, “A Love Song for Bobby Long” probably still wouldn’t have been a particularly good movie but it might have been a more tolerable one. However, his work is so shameless and overbearing that it winds up working against the very same film that it was theoretically supposed to enhance, especially in the way that it steamrollers everything else on the screen including Johansson’s more naturalistic performance. By the “moving” finale, I think that we are supposed to be incredibly touched by the character and the effect that he had on everyone; instead, I suspect that most viewers will just be relieved that he has finally shut up.

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originally posted: 01/28/05 17:10:15
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User Comments

10/30/06 Jess Scarlett was great as always. Nice film 4 stars
10/16/05 Shawn excellent 5 stars
7/28/05 Lisa Brady loved it totally 5 stars
4/22/05 Scott Lamont Scarlett Johansson's a winner. She blossoms as Pursy. 4 stars
1/31/05 sully see it w/ Sideways,then go to an AA meeting 4 stars
1/29/05 keith james JOHN WITH GREENDAY HAIR? TOO MUCH! 4 stars
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  29-Dec-2004 (R)
  DVD: 19-Apr-2005



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