John Travolta’s career can easily be described as a roller coaster ride. He went sky high with films like Saturday Night Fever and Grease only to plummet deep into the bowels of the Look Who’s Talking trilogy, that is until Quentin Tarantino got his hands on him. As of late he’s been slowly going back down the tracks, with The Punisher and Ladder 49 only cementing him further downward. Now the tracks are looking more upward with A Love Song for Bobby Long, a film that makes lightening strike twice as John Travolta gives the best performance of his career.
Trailer park teen Pursy Will (Scarlett Johansson) returns home to New Orleans once word of her mother’s death reaches. Expecting it to be abandoned, to her surprise she finds two strangers living in her childhood home. Bobby Long (John Travolta), a former college professor turned raging alcoholic, and Lawson Pines (Gabriel Macht), Bobby’s protege who also has a fondness for the drink, inform Pursy that it was her mother’s wish to leave all three the house. The trio then must find a way to make a home for themselves together by coming to grips with each of their troubled pasts in order to move forward with their lives.
Travolta has played beaten down old losers before, but not with such expertise as seen here. His portrayal of the title character not only had me wincing at his lack of hygiene but also seduced by his southern charm. I am convinced he normally dyes his hair and decided to show his vulnerability towards silvery locks in this character. “Bobby” is evil, charismatic, pathetic, and compassionate, all are conveyed solely through Travolta’s baby blues. If he doesn’t get any kind of recognition for this role, there is no justice in the world.
Scarlett Johansson continues to make great choices in roles. Between this film and In Good Company, which opens the same day as Bobby Long, it easy to say that this young beauty has nowhere to go but up. Gabriel Macht first caught my attention in the indie comedy Grand Theft Parsons. His cameo in that film made Johnny Knoxville test his acting chops for the first time. In Bobby Long he is the third cog in this machine, yet shines brighter than both Travolta and Johansson. Maybe it was the fact that he had overwhelming support from the flick’s two familiar principles that made him stand out, but I’m more inclined to say that he was the perfect secret ingredient to help cook up this great Cajun recipe.
Writer/director Shainee Gabel makes her directorial debut with Bobby Long. She has had this movie in development for years and waited for just the right time to get everything right. That she did. Her script, based on the soon to be published novel Off Magazine Street, is tight and the dialogue is extremely well written. Not once did it sound like the actors were simply just reciting lines from a page, which can often be the case in similar circumstances. The film comes off as well thought out stage play with big environments and an expanded universe. Bravo Shainee, welcome to the big leagues!
With stellar performances from stars John Travolta, Scarlett Johansson, and the unknown Gabriel Macht, A Love Song for Bobby Long goes above and beyond to serenade you into submission. For about two hours you will laugh, you will cry, and above all you will think.
Reviewed By: Bill Beyrer