After the buzz Scarlett Johansson received with two career-changing roles (Lost in Translation and The Girl With a Pearl Earring) the following season brought a new film, A Love Song for Bobby Long, which was looked over by many. This sappy southern drama premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, which is fitting for the small scale of the film, which relies heavily upon the characters. This may have seemed forced in the hands of any less able actors, but John Travolta brings southern charm to a new level while Gabriel Macht sneaks up on us with the most subtle performance in the film.
Based on Ronald Everett Capps' then-unpublished novel, Off Magazine Street, Love Song is about a young woman, Purslane Hominy Will (Scarlett Johansson), returning home to New Olreans for the first time in years after her mother’s death. This may sound similar to Garden State at this point, but once she arrives at her mother’s house and finds that she must share it with two other men (Travolta and Macht), things veer drastically.
Love Song is a poetical film which, like an onion, has many layers which are peeled away one at a time. This was director Shainee Gabel’s first feature and he shows without fail that he has an eye for character, knowing when it is okay to stray away from plot in order to give the actor’s their
necessary moments. Unfortunately at times it seems that Gabel’s skills at screenwriting are not quite as developed and the film almost has a melodramatic tone to it. The only thing saving some of the dialogue was the dedication and believability of the actors involved. Otherwise Love Song
would have sunk quickly. Fortunately dialog was also set on the backburner and much of what we need to know is said with a look from these skilled actors, rather than words.
Most of the film has a sad aura about it, with feeling of regret coming from each character as they swallow themselves whole with addictions. Each one of them has something very dark in their past and they work very hard not to allow themselves to be exposed. Travolta and Macht play Bobby Long and Lawson, a strange professor/student relationship that has a dark past. Lawson is writing a book for Bobby Long about his experiences knowing the quirky poet. Love Song also has an interesting portion of the film devoted to the examination of the well known love affair between writers and alcohol.
A Love Song for Bobby Long has a light feel about it in between the moments of intensity, mostly thanks to the music, which has a nice southern feeling about it. Along with the music, much of the film has many techniques which help us to feel the surroundings in which the film takes place. As the seasons change, we feel what it is like, especially with the use of voice over by Macht.The moments where the film is most poignant are the ones in which Gabel makes his strongest choices as screenwriter; he takes quotes from famous authors. Literary fanatics that Bobby and Lawson are, they can quote authors as if they were telling the time of the day, and many of those quotes give us the mood of the film better than anything else. The quote which sums up the film best is the one by Robert Frost that says, “Happiness makes up in height what it lacks in length.”