A LOVE SONG FOR BOBBY LONG
(director/writer: Shainee Gabel; screenwriter: from the novel Off Magazine Street by Ronald Everett Capps; cinematographer: Elliot Davis; editors: Lisa Fruchtman/Lee Percy; music: Nathan Larson; cast: John Travolta (Bobby Long), Scarlett Johansson (Purslane Hominy Will), Gabriel Macht (Lawson Pines), Brooke Mueller (Sandy), Deborah Kara Unger (Georgianna), Dane Rhodes (Cecil), David Jensen (Junior), Nick Loren (Club Owner); Runtime: 119; MPAA Rating: R; producers: David Lancaster/Paul Miller/Bob Yari; Lions Gate Films; 2004)
“An atmospheric Southern Gothic melodrama.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An atmospheric Southern Gothic melodrama that rests its brain cells on filling the screen with literary quotes from the likes of T.S. Eliot to George Sand. Moliere’s quote used of “We die only once, and for such a long time,” might set the direction for where this wannabe poignant family drama is heading in tone. Writer-director Shainee Gabel, in her directorial debut, lets the film go awry as she gives a hammy and grizzly looking John Travolta too much room to operate. He overwhelms everyone else in his performance as Bobby Long, a grouchy washed-up intellectual storyteller and literary quote machine who became wearisome from the onset. The pace dragged, and the overlong literary melodrama got mired in its stereotyped look at the struggling writers of New Orleans and their haunted past. It’s based on Ronald Everett Capps’ soon-to-be-published novel, Off Magazine Street.
Purslane Hominy Will (Scarlett Johansson) leaves the “Redneck Riviera” panhandle of Panama City, Florida, to attend her estranged country singer mother Lorraine’s funeral in New Orleans. The teen-age girl, named after a flower, who has not been home or in contact with her mom for ages, arrives too late for the funeral because her dopey boyfriend failed to give her the message in time. In her mother’s rundown house she finds two alcoholic and dissolute men, her mother’s longtime friends: the elderly gray-haired Bobby Long (John Travolta), a former literature professor at Auburn, and his young protégé, Lawson Pines (Gabriel Macht). They inform her that Lorraine left the house for the three of them to split. Since Bobby doesn’t want Purslane around, he acts obnoxious and berates her with sex talk. But this doesn’t work, as the hardened but floundering Pursy is determined to come home again and start her life over from scratch.
The three misfits realize they are all stuck together and eventually learn how to get along in a less hostile way. The self-doubting Lawson keeps busy, encouraged by the others, writing a novel about Bobby Long’s colorful life, which becomes his obsession. High school drop-out Pursy gets schooled at home by the professors and not only gets her equivalency diploma but accepted to the local college. As time passes, despite their awkward arrangement, they unearth a succession of hidden personal secrets showing just how inextricably their lives are connected.
“Bobby Long” proves to be a small film with arty pretensions and not enough of a story for a full-length feature release in theaters. Probably, its best chance to be noticed is through a cable TV presentation.
REVIEWED ON 11/28/2004 GRADE: C https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/