Upon hearing of her mother's death, jaded teenage loner Purslane Hominy Will (Scarlett Johansson) returns to New Orleans for the first time in years, ready to reclaim her childhood home. Expecting to find her late mother's house abandoned, Pursy is shocked to discover that it is inhabited by two of her mother's friends: Bobby Long (John Travolta), a former literature professor, and his young protégé, Lawson Pines (Gabriel Macht). These broken men, whose lives took a wrong turn years before, have been firmly rooted in the dilapidated house for years, encouraged only by Lawson's faltering ambitions to write a novel about Bobby Long's life. Having no intention of leaving, Pursy, Bobby Long and Lawson are all forced to live together. Yet as time passes, their tenuous, makeshift arrangement unearths a series of buried personal secrets that challenges their bonds, and reveals just how inextricably their lives are intertwined.
A misfit drama in the grand Southern (by way of Hollywood) tradition, A Love Song for Bobby Long
takes its cue from Carson McCullers's The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
. Re-establishing his indie-cred, John Travolta adds Bobby Long to his gallery of colorful characters. Hobbled by an infected toe, the 50-something Bobby is a white-haired, unshaven, vodka-soaked mess. But hes also a former English professor, and the piles of books in his ramshackle house, and the authors he drunkenly quotes give him a wounded dignity. Just how wounded will be revealed over the course of this atmospheric tale of redemption and penance. Bobby lives with Lawson Pines (Gabriel Macht), his former teaching assistant who is writing a book about his mentor, a project deferred by drinking, sitting around with the locals, or engaging in quotation oneupsmanship. Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation
, Ghost World
) holds her own against Travolta ("You are such a shameless ham," she chastises the loquacious Bobby) as Pursy, the estranged daughter of Lorraine, a recently deceased singer-songwriter in whose house Bobby and Lawson reside. A battle of wills between the two men and the headstrong young girl gives way to the formation of a tentative family unit. Pursy agrees to return to high school if Bobby and Lawson quit drinking. There will be the expected revelations, recriminations, and dramatic confrontations, but what makes this Love Song
resonate are the performances by a cast that rarely hits a false note. --Donald Liebenson