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Love Song For Bobby Long, A Movie Review

originally posted many years ago

Above all else, A Love Song For Bobby Long proves a time-worn cinematic fact: John Travolta, though credited with his share of bad performances, is an astounding, surprising, and inventive actor when given the right role. Most of the time, it's hard to believe in Travolta's talent; his career is dotted with more failures than triumphs, and only when a truly great character comes along, like Tony Monero in Saturday Night Fever or Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, are we reminded of why he's so famous. A Love Song For Bobby Long, a sweet Southern tale of equal parts tragedy and comedy (like Sideways meets David Gordon Green), nurtures Travolta and gives him the perfect character for his elusive talents, resulting in easily some of the actor's best work to date. A Love Song For Bobby Long is a star vehicle of the best kind-it believes in its lead actor and encourages him without sacrificing the unique flavor of its story.

Travolta aside, this is a good film. A Love Song For Bobby Long has a simplistic existence, savoring the joys of reading, storytelling, and relaxation in the slow, unchanging shadow of New Orleans. Here it is like summer vacation year-round: no one works, there's nothing to do, and everyone is flat broke but happy. There is no real story or emotional arc in this movie; only the pleasant company of the characters-the familiar folks who lounge outside in weathered furniture, drinking, laughing and telling good stories. At its core there is a family drama with trials and tribulations, but it is handled with the same laid-back grace of the film's more dispensable parts. Nothing hurries Bobby Long (Travolta), a well-read southern gentleman whose brilliant charm betrays his old, grey, drunk exterior. Bobby lives easy, and is more than content to sit about his dumpy house, smoking, reading and quoting great literature with his friend, roommate and former student, Lawson (Gabriel Macht).

However, we enter Bobby's life at a solemn moment, just after Lorraine, a woman beloved by all, has died. Enter Pursy (Scarlett Johnasson), Lorraine's estranged daughter, who arrives in New Orleans just in time to miss her mother's funeral. That doesn't really bother Pursy, who only knew Lorraine by her reputation for being "easy," and she quickly moves on to the next order of business. Lorraine has left Pursy a third of her old house, the other two thirds of which have been given to the house's current residents, Bobby and Lawson. The tenacious Pursy moves in, hoping that Bobby and Lawson will eventually move out, and the drunken duo, in turn, tries their best to scare the little girl out of their only home. No one budges, and soon the three become something of a family, sharing bouts of ugly conflict and reuniting out of mutual dependence on each other.

There is no real way to sum up how A Love Song For Bobby Long makes the viewer feel. Its tone is beautifully mixed, at once a stinging drama and a hearty comedy, much like last year's delectable Sideways. Mood swings are frequent; we constantly find ourselves in the middle of one of Bobby and Pursy's many fights, when we were chuckling at one of Bobby's wild stories only moments before. When "dramadies" like this work, they are a slice of life-entertaining, to be sure, but realistically and honestly so. A Love Song For Bobby Long is a great dramady, almost as fun as life and equally unpredictable.

Always, through moments of nastiness and relaxed fun, there is John Travolta, who has the time of his life with this role. Travolta is a revelation in the film's serious scenes (watch him get vicious whenever Pursy insults her late mother), but when Bobby is in a good mood and enjoying life, Travolta is magical. Bobby's gifts as a showman come alive in Travolta's carefully considered delivery; an early scene where Bobby tells a crowd of friends and fans a story about his first experience with...women, Travolta's face twinkles with the vast expression of a born performer.

How depressing, then, that in this award season Travolta has received almost no recognition. His costar, the beautiful and gifted Scarlett Johansson, on the other hand, received a Golden Globe nomination for her role as Pursy-an honor which I have to protest. I love Scarlett Johansson, I really do, but her performance in A Love Song For Bobby Long is not on par with that of 2003's Lost in Translation. Johansson's talent is in evidence, but she still is uncharacteristically one-note as Pursy. Strictly in terms of talent, Johansson is good enough to be this movie's shining star, but Travolta's presence still swallows her up in every scene. If you're planning to see A Love Song For Bobby Long only for Scarlett Johansson, don't buy your ticket yet: she's much better in this year's charming In Good Company. Trust me.

However, if you're aiming to see this movie to have a good time and maybe even shed a tear, your money will not be wasted. See it for Travolta, at the very least-if nothing else in A Love Song For Bobby Long inspires you, his performance definitely will, for it is a pleasant reminder of what it means to be a great actor.

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