Ron Phillips, Lions Gate Films
"A Love Song for Bobby Long" continues John Travolta's career-rehabilitation program, as he finally gets another meaty role to sink his teeth into. And given his recent track record (including his over-the-top villain role in "The Punisher"), he really needs this movie.
But as nice as it is to see Travolta giving a performance with some depth, it's doubtful that anyone else needs this downbeat drama, based on the novel "Off Magazine Street," by Ronald Everett Capps. It's little more than a collection of cliches about the Deep South, alcoholism and the literary arts.
Speaking of which, the screenplay isn't nearly as clever or insightful as filmmaker Shainee Gabel apparently believes it to be. In fact, its use of symbolism and foreshadowing is more heavy-handed than your typical creative-writing term paper.
Travolta plays the title character, a disgraced former literary professor now living in a dingy house with one of his former teaching assistants, would-be novelist Lawson Pines (Gabriel Macht).
The two men are content to live out their days as alcoholics, but fate has other plans. Pursy Will (Scarlett Johansson), the daughter of their former roommate, arrives in New Orleans and greatly complicates their lives.
This high school dropout, who has been working as a waitress and has been living in a trailer park in Florida, is smart enough to know that the lives of the two men are going to end badly, so she encourages Lawson to finish his novel, while he tries to get Pursy to finish her education.
Unfortunately, Bobby, who has become a sort of father figure, is a considerably harder sell. And in fact, his self-destructive ways start having a similar effect on his protege and the newcomer.
Gabel's indulgent pacing is apparently meant to further the character development, but the whole thing is so sullen and slow-moving that it becomes a chore to watch.
Also, the cast struggles with 'Nawlins accents; Johansson's comes and goes, while Travolta's comes closest to authenticity.
This is the best Travolta has been on the big screen in years. His often-strained relationships with both Johansson and Macht's characters feel real more real than the rest of the film.
"A Love Song for Bobby Long" is rated R for frequent use of strong profanity, crude sexual talk, as well as use of vulgar slang terms and gestures, and a brief scene of violence (some fisticuffs). Running time: 119 minutes.