In a year-end blitz of small films about dysfunctional, broken families
(e.g., "Around the
Bend") comes this variation on the theme set in a tacky section of New
Orleans. While a confident cast ultimately makes something of the drama, a
certain awkwardness in the storytelling sets up dischordant side tracks as it
attempts to live up to its title.
Beautiful Purslane ("Pursy") Hominy Will (Scarlett Johansson) has lived most
of her 18-year life without the mother from whom she's estranged but whose
memory she cherishes. As a teenage independent she's become hardened and
jaded beyond her years. When her live-in boyfriend tells her that
he received word of Lorraine's death several days after the fact, she rages
at the dumbshit for neglecting to let her know right away. She storms out of
the house with all her possessions and buses her way from Florida back to the
town she grew up in and to her childhood home, a day too late to make the
Finding the house run down and uncared for, she discovers two men nesting in
it like a pair of disreputable squatters. Handsome Lawson Pines (Gabriel
Macht) welcomes her and wakes Bobby Long (John Travolta) out of a stupor to
greet her. Understanding immediately who she is and why she's there, Long
justifies his and Lawson's presence in the house by declaring that Lorraine
left the house to the three of them, a partial lie but a working
Pursy (whose name is derived from a wild flower of the region) takes her
mother's bedroom and sets about to find a job and some stability, working out
her living arrangement as best she can with the unwanted undesirables under
her roof. While the "dirty-old-men" threat slowly vanishes and we come
to realize that her virtue is not about to be compromised, she learns that
these men were a big part of her mother's life.
Lorraine's circle of friends and admirers form a tight knit community
faithful to her memory and warm in embracing the newcomer who reminds
everyone of her. Leading the pack is Long himself, turning out to be the
central magnet of the group and a former literature professor who spouts
Robert Frost at will and sings folk songs. Lawson is his protege, engaged
for years in fitfully writing Long's biography.
The forced living conditions in the house slowly evolve into understanding,
toleration and mutual respect as years of secrets and half-truths get
stripped away, allowing for love and trust to emerge among the misfits until
what's hidden is revealed and discoveries alter the bonds.
The pleasure of the movie is in its intentions to evoke nostalgic lyricism in
a tone poem of lost opportunities and resilient human emotion. The debut
writing (adapted from the novel, "Off Magazine Street" by Ronald Everett Capps) and the
direction of Shainee Gabel tends to wander in search of enriching details,
forcing us to disregard a steady series of failed moments. Hers is not a
steady hand. Worst of all, the folk-loric dimensions of Bobby Long, along
with the homey depth his character should have, simply fail to materialize.
The character's penchant to quote poetry doesn't quite do the job.
The part of Bobby Long should have gone to someone with a genuine background
in folk music and/or musicianship in general (a less boxoffice-friendly Kris
Kristofferson comes to mind). To anyone who knows musicians, Travolta's
sporting around a guitar without strumming to back up his poetic offerings
and ruminative moments is a patently false note. A true musician doesn't use
his instrument as a silent prop. Put a guitar in a real guitarist's hands
and it becomes part of his voice.
Travolta is a study in sanctimonious ego requiring a last act redemption to
turn him into a good guy, a difficult sell by that late stage in the game.
Getting the name value and charismatic presence from him wasn't worth having
to write around his inabilities as a homespun balladeer. While the title
gives a sense of what was trying to be conveyed, only a full fledged musical
poet could have brought us there. Travolta does play pathetic and dissolute
Johansson stands out for the grip she holds on your concern for her well being.
Her portrayal of a contemporary, feisty
personality is a welcome contrast to her framed idealization in "Girl with a Pearl Earring."
She offers a gentle, straight-ahead naturalism with ample backbone that
compels pleasure in her company. For all its limitations, this is a good
vehicle for her appeal and talents, again justifying the promise she showed
as a 14-year old charmer in "The Horse Whisperer." The camera, and I,
continue to adore her.
Even while fearing for what his character's intentions might be toward his
vulnerable housemate, you sense in Gabriel Macht's ("American Outlaws") demeanor an
underlying store of good character which causes you to root for his
rehabilitation and positive contribution to the household. Beautiful
Canadian Deborah Kara Unger is admirable as the restrained Georgianna, whose
personality forces her to handle jealousy with internal, unboisterous
understanding. This is an actress who has remarkable command of accents,
which she proves here with her Southern and in "Stander" with her South
Naturalistic source lighting by cinematographer Elliot Davis is creatively
atmospheric, adding, along with Sharon Lomofsky's production design, to the
For the most part, this might be a story with greatest appeal to those who
like their conflicts and issues soft, quiet and unexplosive. The allure to
the art house crowd is in the film's study of the haunted past and in the
universal theme of restitching a shredded family.
~~ Jules Brenner