Many are comparing the ensemble piece Bobby to last year’s Oscar winner Crash, and the film will probably be equally hailed and hated but one thing’s for sure: it is going to revolutionize the Kevin Bacon game. You can now get to Kevin Bacon from William H. Macy and Heather Graham (both also in Boogie Nights), or Lawrence Fishburne and Martin Sheen (both also in Apocalypse Now) by connecting with their costar in Bobby Demi Moore, who was of course with the big KB in A Few Good Men. The possibilities are endless and the movie is long enough for you to take the time to think about them. But if you can distract your mind from wandering off-tangent (Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore in the same movie!), you can sit back and enjoy Bobby for the quality individual performances from all of its actors. Okay almost all the actors. Sorry La Lohan, you’ll always be the girl sucking down a can of Red Bull to me.
It doesn’t bode particularly well that the last film Emilio Estevez wrote, directed and starred in was Men at Work, but fortunately he surprises us with Bobby. The film expertly combines newsreel footage of Robert Kennedy with a fictional portrayal of some twenty-two characters at the Ambassador Hotel the day he was murdered. The intricate web of characters each help to recreate the aura of the 1960’s, establishing racial and class tensions, the dread of Vietnam and the drug and pop cultures of the time. While no one part of the story on its own is particularly groundbreaking, they all come together to help us understand why the world was so ready for a man like Bobby.
Inside the hotel on that fateful day is a wide range of elite guests including the alcoholic singer Virginia Fallon (Moore) and her submissive husband Tim (Estevez). In one of the film's more unnecessary storylines (guess it pays to sire the writer/director) a depressed sugar daddy (Martin Sheen) trying to convince his socialite wife Samantha (Helen Hunt) that there's more to life than expensive shoes. Don't worry, this isn't going to be the most depressing movie ever. Bobby breaks for lighter moments with a hysterical sideline about two aides who blow off their duties to “get closer to God” with some LSD bought from a hippie pusher played by Ashton Kutcher.
On the lobby level, retired doorman John Casey (Hopkins) laments his glory days at the hotel while beating his old friend Nelson (Henry Belafonte) at chess. A Czech journalist (Svetlana Metkina) begs a Kennedy aide (Joshua Jackson) for an interview and refuses to give up when he dismisses her for being a Communist. And there’s the beautician Miriam (Sharon Stone), who encourages a nervous bride (Lindsay Lohan) getting married in order to save a schoolmate from Vietnam.
Down in the kitchens, the hotel’s liberal manager Paul Ebbers (William H. Macy) fires his manager Timmons (Christian Slater) for being a racist, before sneaking off for an adulterous affair with a lonely switchboard operator (Heather Graham). Meanwhile the kitchen serves as the racial tension UN, as wise chef Edward (Fishburne) teaches the noble Latino Jose (Freddy Rodriguez) and the hotheaded Miguel (Jacob Vargas) how to overcome repression.
It might seem impossible to develop twenty-two characters in two hours, but the stories manage to come together so well by end I forgot to ask what the hell is Helen Hunt doing in this movie. But I’m going to ask it now, what the hell is Helen Hunt doing in this movie? I spent most of her storyline wondering if Sheen begged his son to get him a make out scene with a younger actress and Hunt was the only one up for the job. Equally random were the scenes with Anthony Hopkins’ aging doorman, but I guess when you get the chance for Hopkins to spew witty advice in a clean Irish accent, you take it. Some may feel that the drug interlude didn’t fit in, but those people either know nothing about the sixties, or more importantly, nothing about comic relief. There's nothing funnier than seeing two hopped up aides try to play tennis.
It’s easy to fall out of Bobby, there are lulls, but fortunately each character arcs just enough that quality acting is able to sustain the film. More importantly, Estevez’s choice of using archival footage a la Good Night and Good Luck to depict RFK helps to give the film an authentic feel while infusing the plot with some political perspective. What’s most amazing about Bobby is how well it resonates with our political situation today, so much so that even those who know nothing about RFK will be impacted by the film.
Unfortunately, that's also one of the flaws of the film, as Estevez’s liberal views are on display almost to the point of becoming preachy. I had Morpheus flashbacks as Lawrence Fishburne spewed an inspirational tale about race relations over blueberry cobbler – the story was good, but there's just a little too much cheese in the kitchen. In the film’s climactic finale, Estevez goes to a tear-jerking clip show of RFK’s life set to “The Sound of Silence,” a move more emotionally manipulative than the end of Stepmom. But Estevez redeems himself in the final moments of Bobby by pitting one of RFK’s most moving speeches against the tragic aftermath of his assassination. It'll leave you glued to your seat even after the credits role.
Whatever you know about RFK try to forget it as you walk in to see Bobby, because it’s not a film about the man whose name adorns the title. This is a movie about those who needed Bobby, disillusioned citizens dreaming for someone to make the world a better place and being destroyed when that dream was taken from them. That is where Estevez's film is most powerful, and that's why it resonates today. Nothing has changed. We're all still looking for someone to believe in.