In A Love Song For Bobby Long, it’s okay that director Shainee Gabel chooses to convey distance using that cheesy film-school staple of having actors walk through a series of city long shots. It’s also okay that John Travolta sounds as if he trained for his role as an ex-professor-turned-drunk under the tutelage of Tom Hanks’s Professor G.H. Dorr from The Ladykillers. You see: The film’s bucolic South is a loving, sometimes kooky backdrop for a reasonably intelligent look at people living their lives through a filter of literary pretense. When Purslane (Scarlett Johannson) arrives in New Orleans a day after her estranged mother’s funeral, she shacks up in a rundown house with “champion fuck-up” Bobby Long (Travolta) and would-be writer Lawson (Gabriel Macht), where the trio exchanges catty barbs and insults. Everyone in the film’s “Redneck Riviera” is in a state of arrested development—those who aren’t running from the past are drowning in secrets, but where Bobby and Lawson turn to booze, Purslane looks for her mother in the woman’s expansive book collection. Indeed, there isn’t a second in the film that doesn’t suggest a page torn out of Steinbeck, O’Connor, even Hemingway, which means A Love Song For Bobby Long is by turns raunchy, maudlin, and searing. Gabel’s direction is flat in that point-and-shoot kind of way, which is unfortunate considering the fearlessness with which she allows her characters to be truly pathetic (sick with regret and desperation, Lawson gets creative with his hooch, mixing vodka with pickle juice at one point). Like Birth, A Love Song For Bobby Long‘s lead character is a dead person whose face is never seen but whose presence is very much felt. And it’s from somewhere beyond the grave that Purslane’s mother partakes in Literature 101 with the film’s misfits and invisible people, coding a last-minute clincher in the title of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. In death she allows others to live, and if her experiment weren’t so intelligently thought out, it’d be entirely too cheesy to bear.
- Shainee Gabel
- Shainee Gabel
- John Travolta, Scarlett Johansson, Gabriel Macht, Deborah Unger
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