With Friends Like These
“I have renewed respect for John Travolta as an actor,” my husband declared after watching A Love Song for Bobby Long. I understand why he feels that way, for Travolta takes on an ultra-challenging role in this touching melodrama -- and performs it superbly. Cast in an extremely unsympathetic part as an alcoholic and former literature professor, Travolta made me yearn for his character to find redemption. Although not a pretty sight, he’s quite convincing as a difficult, pathetic man who seems to have lost everything but a small group of friends in New Orleans.
A redemption opportunity comes for Bobby Long (Travolta) when Pursy Will (Scarlett Johansson) moves in with him and Lawson Pines (Gabriel Macht), his protégé and biographer. Bobby and Lawson spend most of their time boozing it up and tossing around quotes from famous authors. Both of these men are living in the house of Pursy’s recently deceased mother, and neither of them wants a high school drop-out as a new roommate. However, adjust they must, because Pursy’s estranged mom left the run-down old house to all three of them. Despite Pursey’s independent -- sometimes downright pushy -- attitude, Bobby and Lawson soon find themselves helping her with her academic education. Although it’s not easy for these three very different people to get close to each other, strong bonds develop and they become almost like a family.
Johansson (Girl with a Pearl Earring) endows Pursy with the right combination of vulnerability and strength. She looks lovely, as always -- but I think it’s her low-pitched, soothing voice that helps her stand out from the current crop of young actresses. She’s so convincing here that I wanted to sit down beside Pursy and share her favorite food, a spoonful of peanut butter and M&M's. I love the way Johansson captures Pursy’s emotional growth as she discovers secrets about her two housemates and makes important decisions about her own life.
The most pleasant surprise in A Love Song for Bobby Long involves the third member of its impressive acting trio, Gabriel Macht. I don’t recall seeing him before in a movie, but I hope he appears in many more. With his good looks and appealing charisma, Macht projects a solid screen presence. And he certainly holds his own here with Travolta and Johansson.
First-time director Shainee Gabel, who also wrote the screenplay from Ronald Everett Capps’ Off East Magazine Street, deserves credit for not rushing this film. It needs to move at a pace allowing its characters time to warm up to one another. I also appreciate how the movie's excellent cinematography and music gave me such a strong sense of place. I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans, but A Love Song for Bobby Long will do until that actually happens.
(Released by Lions Gate Films and rated “R” for language including some sexual references.)