Film-Forward Review: [BOBBY]

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BOBBY
Written & Directed by: Emilio Estevez.
Produced by: Edward Bass, Michel Litvak, & Holly Wiersma.
Director of Photography: Michael Barrett.
Edited by: Richard Chew.
Music by: Mark Isham.
Released by: Metro Goldwyn Mayer & the Weinstein Company.
Country of Origin: USA. 111 Min. Rated R. With: Anthony Hopkins, Harry Belafonte, William H. Macy, Sharon Stone, Heather Graham, Joy Bryant, Christian Slater, Laurence Fishburne, Freddy Rodriguez, Jacob Vargas, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, Martin Sheen, Helen Hunt, Joshua Jackson, Nick Cannon, Svetlana Metkina, Brain Geraghty, Shia Lebeouf, & Ashton Kutcher.

Nineteen sixty-eight is one of those years in American history that entire college courses are based on. The Vietnam War was raging abroad, and back home the country was struggling for civil rights and women's equality. For many, Robert F. Kennedy's presidential campaign was the last great hope of a country trying to heal itself from so much turmoil, especially the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Into this rich historic moment steps actor, writer, and director Emilio Estevez who attempts to chart a day in the life of 22 (fictional) people at the Ambassador Hotel on the day when RFK was shot.

Estevez deftly weaves archival footage of Kennedy's speeches within the fictionalized stories. However, the overarching problem is that the storylines are all over the place, and they don't match the historical richness seen in the clips and heard in Kennedyís speeches. It would have been better and stronger if Estevez would have stuck to making a documentary because that is where Bobby is strongest.

The star power on display is extraordinary, and Estevez is overambitious in trying to tell multiple stories with equivalence and depth. In one, Paul Ebbers (William Macy), the hotel manager, fires the racist kitchen boss (Christian Slater), who won't give the kitchen workers, most of whom are Black and Latino, time off to vote. Ebbers is also having an affair with a hotel switchboard operator (Heather Graham) under the nose of his wife (Sharon Stone), who runs the hotelís salon. Many characters you want to see more of, like Laurence Fishburne as a chef who really knows how to handle the racist kitchen boss, or Elijah Wood and Lindsay Lohan as two friends getting married to save him from being sent to Vietnam.

The most richly drawn character, Jose, a hotel busboy played by Freddy Rodriguez, is forced to work a double shift when all he wants is to go to Dodger Stadium to see Don Drysdale pitch his record-setting shutout. He starts the film off on this hectic and exciting morning in the kitchen, and he ends the day cradling the dying Kennedy, blood all over him, putting his rosary in Kennedyís hands.

Unfortunately, the female characters are poorly written stereotypes with frosted lipstick. The actresses try but can't rise above the limited script, especially Demi Moore as an over-the-top drunk has-been show girl, and the socialite wife played by Helen Hunt, who buys shoes she can't walk in just because they match her outfit. Moore is hard to watch as a lush, and when she falls apart in Sharon Stone's salon, both actresses try desperately to save their encounter, but itís no use.

Estevez is a better director than writer, but his ability to tell the stories coherently is lacking. It's hard to know whether to blame Estevez the writer or Estevez the director. Nevertheless, I highly recommend staying for the credits because the photo montage of Kennedy is amazing. The film evokes emotions of a nationwide loss of direction Ė and one can't help but think about how differently the world would have been had Kennedy lived and become president.
Melissa Silverstein, a writer on women & popular culture and online editor for The Women's Media Center

November 17, 2006

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