by Josh Boris
WHITMAN COLLEGE PIONEER
1968: a terrible year for the liberal dream. Not only was Martin Luther King, Jr. gunned down in the midst of his increasingly politicized fight for the future, but Robert F. Kennedy, upon whom was placed the burden of fixing everything that was wrong with America, was assassinated during the primaries that almost assuredly would have won him a spot on the Democratic ticket.
With a long line of Republican presidents (and only a slight repose in the form of Clinton), a quagmire in Iraq and an increasingly untrustworthy presidency, there’s little surprise that one of the Hollywood elite (joined by an overwhelming onslaught of other Hollywood elites) would decide to make a movie with the ostensive message “if only Bobby Kennedy hadn’t been shot, this would be a great nation,” accompanied by a heavy sigh.
However, the movie isn’t about Bobby Kennedy (at least a large portion isn’t). “Bobby” takes an Altman-esque, overloaded vignette form that offers over 20 characters with at least 10 separate plotlines. It would take much too long to hit all the plotlines so I’ll just rattle some off: William H. Macy is the hotel manager having problems with his wife (Sharon Stone) and is having an affair with a switchboard operator (Heather Graham), Lindsay Lohan is marrying a young soldier (Elijah Wood) so that he is sent to Germany rather than Vietnam, Ashton Kutcher is a hippy giving LSD to two young campaign workers, and Demi Moore is an alcoholic diva who treats her husband (Emilio Estevez) like a lackey.
This doesn’t even take into account plots involving actors such as Laurence Fishburne, Martin Sheen, Helen Hunt, Freddy Rodriguez, Anthony Hopkins, or Christian Slater.
A veritable who’s who of Hollywood, it’s a wonder how a movie about a beloved political figure with an all-star cast could ever go wrong. Here’s how: make all the parts not involving Bobby pretty much meaningless, overload it with “drama” that isn’t at all heart-wrenching, and under-use practically your entire cast. Director-actor Estevez reaches too high and tries too hard with a script that is stretched too thin (granted, he has only himself to blame, as he also wrote the movie). Each little piece isn’t given its fair share of screen time, and when we’re forced into an emotional situation involving an underdeveloped plotline, it’s hard to feel for any of the characters and it appears more like a blatant attempt at manipulation. On top of all this, the vignettes have little to do with Bobby himself; many of them actually have little to do with the milieu of the ‘60s in general, and could easily be transposed to a contemporary movie. Estevez presents us with a plot that pulls us every which way that we couldn’t care less about.
This is unfortunate because the parts using Bobby Kennedy are actually very good. The first 10 minutes of the film outline the social climate (interspersed with shots and voice clips of Bobby) and excellently set up the film. Then we have a little more than an hour of fluff, which is also unfortunate because some of the plots are actually amusing or enjoyable but must share screen time with everything else. However, then we reach the finale, which is by far the strongest point. After Bobby Kennedy is shot, the audience is presented with a stirring voice over of a Kennedy speech accompanied by a mishmash of chaos and despair as the camera fluidly moves through all the characters, depicting how their lives have come crashing down. Perhaps it is because that which came before it seemed so unimportant, but the final 15 minutes are powerful and moving.
As a big fan of Bobby Kennedy, I thoroughly enjoyed all parts that actually utilized his charismatic presence. However, I feel that Estevez had so much more he could have done, and it is unfortunate that his best directorial choices all consisted of which Kennedy clips to use. If you’re a big Bobby fan, check this out on DVD, but everyone else might just want to skip it.