A review of “A Love Song for Bobby Long” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: * 1/2

Rating: R for language, drugs, and mature themes

Run Time: 2 hours

 

 

Nothing hurts quite so much as a precocious indie; cloyingly atmospheric enough to make your molars ache.

Thus is the case with the ode to Bobby Long, a drunken love song that has seen better days.  The Bobby (John Travolta) in this case is a washed-up and permanently pickled literature professor, a man of such formerly towering intellectual integrity that his prize student cum teaching assistant (Gabriel Macht as Lawson Pines) dropped out of school to follow his teachings.

That the two are alcoholics living on New Orleans’ boozy bayou with only their bottles for company is no surprise. (Beer and tomato juice as the breakfast of champions, you know the type). That the daughter (Scarlett Johannson as Pursy Will)  of Bobby’s ex-lover Lorraine turns up to honor the memory of her dead mother is even less of one.

Family skeletons rise up to make themselves known and old hurts become new ones.  Pursy’s expectations of a modest inheritance form the crux of a shaky narrative. Her smoldering resentment ever-so-slowly segues into friendship with Bobby and a more prurient relationship with Lawson.

The sluggish sweetness of a Big Easy summer wraps itself around the proceedings with a steamy saccharine weight. I dislike like this kind of painstakingly-crafted, emotionally engineered (read: manipulative) mood piece.  Long is the victim of the David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls) Syndrome; artsy to a fault, snappy one-liners without the snap, rubbery characterizations and a “surprise” climax that can be seen coming from a country mile off.  Ugh.

Travolta is completely out of sync as the pathetically lecherous lush who was once someone and milks it for all its worth.  Johannson is solid but sulky and her incessant film presence is putting her in danger of becoming ubiquitous (college is the answer).  Macht is a bright spot, playing the sensible adult of this socially juvenile triptych by sidestepping its sickly clichés.

The film generates a bit of sentiment when it’s looking the other way, but it’s too little too late.