Review: A Love Song for Bobby Long (2004)

>> Sunday, January 10, 2010

USA/C-119m./Dir: Shainee Gabel/Wr: Shainee Gabel/Cast: John Travolta (Bobby Long), Scarlett Johansson (Purslane Will), Gabriel Macht (Lawson Pines), Deborah Unger (Georgianna), Dane Rhodes (Cecil), David Jensen (Lee)

In this adaptation of Ronald Everett Capps’ novel Off Magazine Street, Scarlett Johannson stars as Purslane Will, an 18 year-old high school dropout who travels back to her New Orleans birthplace, upon hearing of the death of her mother. When she arrives, she discovers that she has missed the funeral and that her mother’s home is occupied by a couple of alcoholics--Bobby Long (John Travolta), an aging ex-English professor with an infected toe, and Lawson Pines (Gabriel Macht), a frustrated writer who was once Bobby’s teaching assistant. The conditions of Pursy’s mother’s will stipulate that the drunks are free to stay in the ramshackle residence for the period of one year, upon which time Pursy will assume sole ownership. However, the literate lushes trick Purslane into thinking that she only inherited one-third of the property, while they were bequeathed the remaining two thirds.

The boys initially plan to scare off the girl before she can discover the truth about her inheritance; but over time, the three misfits grow into an unconventional family unit. With the help of the boozing boys, Pursy resumes her high school education. Likewise, she helps her roommates fix up their decrepit domicile and tries to help them overcome their addictions and melancholy. However, the clan’s new found happiness is threatened by the revelation of the boy’s deception, long buried secrets, and Bobby’s increasing illness.

The release of A Love Song for Bobby Long was met with pans from critics and disinterest by the general public. However, the film deserved a better reception than it received. It’s true that the story contains an overabundance of clich├ęs--misfits finding each other and filling each others voids, alcoholic ex-academics (Is there any other kind?), gruff exteriors hiding sensitive souls, etc. Still, the film contains a number of modest pleasures.

Chief amongst the positives are the performances. Travolta does his best character work since Pulp Fiction (1994), and Johannson gives her second-best performance to date (the best being her turn in the exquisite Lost in Translation (2003)). Best of all is Gabriel Macht as Bobby’s hand-picked biographer. Macht gives a quiet, truthful performance as a man struggling with a guilty conscience and turning repeatedly to alcohol rather than facing his personal demons. Other factors in the “pro” column include good direction and cinematography, which soak up a lot of flavor from the picture’s Louisiana locations.

While the film is not as essential an entry in the alcoholism genre as The Lost Weekend (1945), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), or Leaving Las Vegas (1995), it does hold many pleasures for admirers of booze movies. Bobby and Lawton spend their days in an alcohol-stimulated stupor, greeting the morning with Orange Blossoms (gin topped with orange juice) and moving on to beer and whiskey in the afternoons. The characters also concoct a couple of the most disgusting cocktails in movie history. Bobby starts out one morning with a mixture of beer and tomato juice, and Lawton pours Seagram’s gin into a can of dill pickle brine when he runs out of orange juice. You can do worse than spend a couple of hours with these adventurous alcoholics.

Drinks Consumed--Beer, gin, bourbon, scotch, and vodka

Intoxicating Effects--bickering, destruction of property, unintentional urination, and withdrawal sweats

Potent Quotables--PURSY: Well, it’s no big deal. Ya know, Lorraine thinking I’d share this shithole with two alcoholic strangers. Well, you are alcoholics, aren’t you?
BOBBY: But we are not strangers. We were her friends. We took care of her. And this shithole is just fine for us. It’s not suited for a girl like you.

Video Availability--DVD (Sony)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Scarlett Johannson learns that for relaxing times she should make it Suntory time in Lost in Translation (2003).

Off Magazine Street (Paperback)

2 comments:

#167 Dad January 10, 2010 at 12:49 PM  

Thought Tavolta was quite good. the cliches didn't bother me. I really dug this movie and I intend to read the book.

Very cool blog.

Purg January 12, 2010 at 5:05 PM  

I have to agree with #167 Dad. Travolta was good. I heard the book was really good, if you liked the movie.

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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