Laura CliffordPurselane Will (Scarlett Johansson) is a strong-minded young woman who has taken care of herself since her estrangement from her mother years before. When she learns of her death, Pursy heads back to New Orleans to claim her inheritance - a dilapidated old house. She discovers, upon her arrival, that the abode is occupied by an aging, alcoholic literature professor (John Travolta) and his equally soused assistant cum biographer (Gabriel Macht) in “A Love Song for Bobby Long.”
Multi-hyphenate newcomer (director-scripter-producer) Shainee Gabel makes a strong debut in her adaptation of Ronald Everett Capps’s novel, Off Magazine Street, which steeps itself in the sultry setting of New Orleans, allowing the locale to set the tone for the characters.
When Pursy gets the bad news, the delivery of which withheld by her ne’er-do-well boyfriend, it is too late to attend her mother’s funeral. She returns to the family manor only to find Bobby Long (Travolta) firmly ensconced in his intellectual squalor. He claims that Pursy’s mom left the place, in equal shares, to Pursy, Bobby and Lawson Pines (Macht). Perturbed but filled with resolve, the defiant young woman decides to make the best of things, cleans up the squalor that has overtaken the house and sets about making a new life. A truce, of sorts, develops, until Pursy learns that Bobby and Lawson have kept some important information from her. Things begin to deteriorate rapidly and the day is saved only when a deep secret is revealed.
It would have been interesting to see what “A Love Song For Bobby Long” would have been in the hands of a more experienced director and writer. As it is, Shainee Gabel does a credible job in creating a modern day southern Gothic story that uses the New Orleans locale to this effect. The sultry setting couples nicely with a game performance by Travolta – his exaggerated southern drawl is over the top but his heart is in the right place for the character, Bobby Long. Johansson, too, gives a layered performance as she arcs from tough cynic to caring friend. Gabriel Macht gives a good supporting effort as Bobby’s protégé who, like the older man, has given up on life in favor of the easy, alcohol-laden ways.
Gabel’s adaptation of Capps’s novel is straightforward and a bit simplistic; unless the original story’s big secrets are as readily telegraphed as they are in the movie. It is a nice story about dysfunctional people made whole by each other. The acting is well meant and of yeoman’s quality. The young filmmaker makes a good first impression and “Bobby Long” is a solid calling card of a film. I give it a B-.
Laura gives "A Love Song for Bobby Long" a B-.
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