A few years ago, I was on twitter when I came across someone who had just watched The Breakfast Club.
“Whatever happened to Emilio Estevez?” she asked.
Being the know-it-all, obsessive film fan that I am, I tweeted back, “He’s a director.”
Of course, I could not leave well enough along. I had to send another tweet, “He directed a movie called Bobby that got nominated for bunch of Golden Globes.”
“Was it any good?” she wrote back.
“Never seen it,” I wrote back, suddenly feeling very embarrassed because, if there’s anything I hate, it’s admitting that there’s a film that I haven’t seen.
However, Shattered Politics gave me an excuse to finally sit down and watch Bobby. So now, I can now say that I have watched this 2006 film and … eh.
Listen, I have to admit that I really hate giving a film like Bobby a lukewarm review because it’s not like Bobby is a bad film. It really isn’t. As a director, Emilio Estevez is a bit heavy-handed but he’s not without talent. He’s good with actors. Bobby actually features good performances from both Lindsay Lohan and Shia LaBeouf! So, give Estevez that.
And Bobby is a film that Estevez spent seven years making. It’s a film that he largely made with his own money. Bobby is obviously a passion project for Estevez and that passion does come through. (That’s actually one of the reasons why the film often feels so heavy-handed.)
But, with all that in mind, Bobby never really develops a strong enough narrative to make Estevez’s passion dramatically compelling. The film takes place on the day of the 1968 Democratic California Presidential Primary. That’s the day that Robert F. Kennedy won the primary and was then shot by Sirhan Sirhan in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. However, it never seems to know what it wants to say about Kennedy or his death, beyond the fact that Estevez seems to like him.
(Incidentally, it’s always interesting, to me, that Dallas is still expected to apologize every day for the death of JFK but Los Angeles has never had to apologize for the death of his brother.)
Estevez follows an ensemble of 22 characters as they go about their day at and around the Ambassador Hotel. As often happens with ensemble pieces, some of these characters are more interesting than others.
For instance, Anthony Hopkins plays a courtly and retired doorman who sits in the lobby and plays chess with his friend Nelson (Harry Belafonte). It adds little to the film’s story but both Hopkins and Belafonte appear to enjoy acting opposite each other and so, they’re fun to watch.
Lindsay Lohan plays a woman who marries a recently enlisted soldier (Elijah Wood), the hope being that his marital status will keep him out of Vietnam. The problem with this story is that it’s so compelling that it feels unfair that it has to share space with all the other stories.
Christian Slater plays Darrell, who runs the kitchen and who spends most of the movie talking down to the kitchen staff, the majority of whom are Hispanic. Darrell is disliked by the hotel’s manager (William H. Macy) who is cheating on his wife (Sharon Stone).
And then, you’ve got two campaign aides (Shia LaBeouf and Brian Geraghty) who end up dropping acid with a drug dealer played by Ashton Kutcher. Unfortunately, Estevez tries to visualize their trip and it brings the film’s action to a halt.
Estevez himself shows up, playing the husband of an alcoholic singer (Demi Moore). And Estevez’s father, Martin Sheen, gets to play a wealthy supporter of Kennedy’s. Sheen’s wife is played by Helen Hunt. She gets to ask her husband whether she reminds him more of Jackie or of Ethel.
(Actually, Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt are cute together. Much as with Lohan and Wood, you wish that more time had been devoted to them and their relationship.)
And there are other stories as well. In fact, there’s far too many stories going on in Bobby. It may seem strange for a girl who is trying to review 94 films in three weeks to say this but Emilio Estevez really tries to cram too much into Bobby.
At the same time, too much ambition is better none. Bobby may have been a misfire but at least it’s a respectable misfire.