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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » A Love Song for Bobby Long
A Love Song for Bobby Long
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // April 19, 2005
List Price: $26.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Scott Lecter | posted May 1, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
A Love Song for Bobby Long is the kind of film that requires a few viewings to warm up to. The first time I saw the film I was, to put it mildly, lukewarm about it. I thought the characters were shallow and unlikable, the plot had too many convenient coincidences, and the film was way too long. Then I watched it again and I started to see how deep and well fleshed-out these characters are throughout the course of the film. So I watched it again and the plot - even though there are still a few of those convenient coincidences - didn't seem to bother me as much. I decided to give the film one more shot to win me over, and through the course of that last viewing, I decided that, although the film is still a bit overlong, everything really started to come together. It may have taken longer than some films, but A Love Song for Bobby Long eventually turned out to be a sweet story that takes place in a delightful location not often seen in today's cinema.

There have been plenty of films, throughout the years, that take place in New Orleans. They use the city to show off its excellent music, great nightlife, and tasty food. What most films don't show, however, is the other side of New Orleans. They don't show the outskirts of the city and, instead, often focus on Bourbon Street or the red-light district. What makes A Love Song for Bobby Long so intoxicating and beautiful is the way that Writer/Director Shainee Gabel uses her locations as characters. She films the outskirts of the city with as much passion and admiration as the sax player in the bars has for his music. These characters absolutely love the colorful place they live, and it shows in the film. Gabel, along with her Director of Photography Elliot Davis, film the rich reds, blues, greens, and yellows of New Orleans with precision and care. And while they don't shy away from showing the dilapidated buildings and crumbling houses, Gabel and Davis somehow manage to make even these structures look inviting and beautiful.

As much as New Orleans itself can be considered a character in the film, A Love Song for Bobby Long really finds its heart and soul in its three main characters played by John Travolta, Scarlett Johansson, and Gabriel Macht. When I first came to the film, I initially thought Travolta might be the wrong choice to play the washed-up, alcoholic, former literature professor Bobby Long. He, actually, seemed the least likely person to fit the role. After watching the film a few times, however, it's hard to imagine anyone else as Bobby Long. Travolta gives himself over to the character body and soul, and creates a portrait of a man that may now be broken, but clearly still has a whole lot of beauty left in him. Whether he's spouting quotations from some of literature's finest, telling stories to the neighborhood, or singing along to his guitar, it's painfully obvious that he hasn't exactly been living life to the fullest. In fact, Bobby Long has mostly been killing himself with every sip of alcohol he takes.

This is the Bobby Long we meet as the film opens. He's battered, broken, and completely drunk. That is until Purslane finds out her mother has died and shows up on Bobby and Lawson's doorstep to claim the third of the house that is owed to her. Played both innocently and wise-beyond-her-years by Scarlett Johansson, Pursy brightens up the house (both literally and figuratively), which in turn, shakes up the lives of Bobby and his young protégé. Johansson, admittedly, is one of the reasons I first wanted to see A Love Song for Bobby Long and, although this certainly isn't her best work, she is as radiant as ever. She inhabits this character that, with all her flaws and naiveties, somehow always manages to make everyone around her better. While her relationship, in the film, with Travolta at times seems a bit creepy, her chemistry with Gabriel Macht is great. Her outspoken performance matches nicely with Macht's quiet subtlety, and their friendship is one of most believable in the film.

All that's not to say that A Love Song for Bobby Long is a perfect (or even great) film. It does has a few too many cozy conveniences in the plot and is still slightly too long. There are even a few subplots - one involving Macht's love interest and one involving the boyfriend that Johansson left in Florida - that don't really pan out. In the midst of the rest of the story, these subplots simply get in the way and probably would have been better left on the shelf. The film tends to lose its way a bit near the middle, but eventually finds the solid ground of character to bring it back together in the end. What really works for A Love Song for Bobby Long is character and thankfully Shainee Gabel gives these characters plenty of time to develop. Even the smaller characters in Bobby Long's neighborhood become an enriching part of the story. These characters add a little more color to the already colorful New Orleans that Gabel chooses to show.

The best things about A Love Song for Bobby Long are what, ultimately, make it a quality film. The chance to see a side of New Orleans that most people haven't seen is easily worth the price of admission. The performances of Travolta, Johansson, and Macht are simply icing on the cake. Writer/Director Shainee Gabel may not have made a masterpiece but she has made a film that, despite its downfalls, has more good qualities than bad. She's shown that she's a filmmaker with heart and passion for her subject, and Gabel certainly knows how to make even the most mundane things look stunning. A Love Song for Bobby Long is a film that I'll watch again if for nothing more than to see the beauty of a New Orleans rarely seen.


A Love Song for Bobby Long is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen format that has more issues than one would expect from such a recent film. The transfer does a fine job handling the varied color palette of the deep south. The blues, reds, greens, and yellows of New Orleans appear bright and vibrant, yet subdued. The best aspect of this transfer is the way it handles the bright sunlight in outdoor scenes with a beautiful golden glow. Fleshtones are accurate and shadows and lighting are well delineated. The film, however, does seem to have a bit of a flat look to it, lacking some of the intricate detail you might expect. Edge enhancement is not much of an issue, but the print isn't in the best of shape. Dirt and spots show up from time to time and, although some of it is probably intentional, there is a fair amount of grain present throughout. Overall, this is an adequate visual presentation that could have been much better with a little print cleanup.

The audio on this disc is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 format that isn't all that dynamic, but certainly gets the job done. The track handles the dialogue-heavy fare just fine, as dialogue is always crisp, clear, and distinct. It is always the main focus of this track and never becomes overwhelmed by the music or sound effects. Spatial separation across the front channels is good, and the track is well balanced. There are not a lot of opportunities for the surround channels to come alive, but they do a fine job of giving the jazzy, blues soundtrack a bit more ambience and power. There are times - such as during a rain scene - when the surrounds do come in handy. Don't expect to be blown away with sound effects, as A Love Song for Bobby Long is not that type of film. This track may not be incredibly dynamic, but is does a nice job where it really counts.

The first extra feature on this disc is an audio commentary with Writer/Director Shainee Gabel and Director of Photography Elliot Davis. While the two seem to get along well, they're both so soft-spoken that they nearly put me to sleep with this track. Sure, we get the usual information about the production as Gabel tells us how the cast (and the film as a whole) came together, and Davis tells us why he chose to light a scene a certain way. But in a time when we hear so many commentaries on so many discs, this basic information isn't quite enough to make for a really engaging listen. Gabel seems to have the basic formula for an interesting commentary, but she rarely delivers. Although the track isn't a complete wash - it does prove to be fairly informative - next time I suggest a little more energy.

Also included on this disc is an approximately 30-minute long behind-the-scenes featurette that turns out to be a bit too produced for my taste. We get the standard interviews, with most of the principal cast and crew, mixed in with a few behind-the-scenes moments, and a few clips from the film. Everyone seems to have something intelligent to say about the film, which is good, but they seem to lack the passion that comes with a more on-the-fly featurette. This one, despite its length, seems too much like your typical EPK-style behind-the-scenes documentary. It may have succeeded, however, if not for the inclusion of some clips from the film that are just way too long. They are unnecessarily lengthy, and the featurette probably would have been much more interesting without them. Unfortunately, this documentary rarely moves beyond your standard EPK fare.

We also have eight deleted scenes that, thankfully, were left out of the film. It's not that they're bad or unworthy, but A Love Song for Bobby Long is already too long. Nevertheless, their inclusion on this disc is a nice little touch for those who want to see even more character development. One scene in particular is a special treat to all us Johansson fans as it shows her in a rather Meg-Ryan-in-the-diner-scene-from-When-Harry-Met-Sally moment. Very nice, if I don't say so myself.

Finally, there are nine trailers for A Love Song for Bobby Long, Wild Things: Diamond in the Rough, D.E.B.S., Imaginary Heroes, William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, The Brooke Ellison Story, Bewitched TV, 80s Hits, and Manny & Lo.

Final Thoughts:
I'll be the first to admit that the first time I saw A Love Song for Bobby Long, I wasn't exactly sure that I wanted to see it again. A repeat viewing, however, turned out to be a wise decision as the film became more engaging and heartfelt the second time around. Its mistakes - which seemed so glaring the first time around - tended to drift off into the ether as the environment and characters became the focal point. It may not be a film that will touch everyone who sees it, but A Love Song for Bobby Long delivers where it counts. The beautiful color palette, and the performances of Travolta, Johansson, and Macht make the film one worth seeing. While Warner Bros. has packed this disc with a nice assortment of extra features, they fail to elevate this disc to highly recommended simply for the fact that they don't add much to the enjoyment of the film. Nevertheless, on the strength of the film alone, this disc easily comes as recommended.

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