Thursday, June 23, 2005
Do You Know What It Means, To Miss New Orleans?
My wife and I watched "A Love Song for Bobby Long" last night after sitting through the weak "Be Cool" (a film that is the textbook argument for unnecessary sequels). This film didn't get the best reviews ("Pedigree cast elevates old-fashioned material and lackluster screenwriting in overlong Southern melodrama that struggles to accumulate emotional weight. John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson make this tale of misfits thrown together an agreeable enough time-passer." from David Rooney at Variety was one of the more positive ones) , was an obvious "Oscar bait" movie for Travolta (try watching the behind the scenes feature on the dvd and not want to beat the "artist" out of him with a two-by-four) and wears it's Southern Gothic wannabe needs (both Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor are name-checked, with special emphasis on McCullers' "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter") on its sleeve. And I really loved it a lot.
The director, Shainee Gabel, is a woman I met in 1997 or so, when she had co-directed a kind of documentary (or as Orson Welles might call it, an "essay") called "Anthem". You might have seen it, it's about the two directors Gabel and Kristin Hahn (now a producer for Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt's company "Plan B"... wonder who gets that in the settlement?) going through America and getting people's takes on what the meaning of the American dream. They talk to everyone from Hunter S. Thompson and Studs Terkel to Willie Nelson and Tom Robbins. It's a film that wears it's earnestness on it's sleeve, but also has a great feeling for the various locations it's shot in. They also managed to fund the movie with a book deal about their trip as well. The film premiered in LA at the theater where I was an assistant manager. I met them both and was struck by how nice both Kristin and Shainee were, how committed they were to this project, and how savvy they had been in getting it made.
Seeing Bobby Long a few years later, I realize that while the director still has that college student's earnestness, she has also grown in use of place to help tell a story. To wit, this movie drips of New Orleans and I don't mean that sarcastically. If you've ever been there and stayed for more than a few days, you know how humid the place is almost year-round. In the spring summer and fall, the humidity tends to sap your strength, making it almost impossible to do anything but sweat and drink. Which, I know, sounds really awesome.
With that kind of atmosphere, it's a miracle anyone ever gets a film made down there (but they do... just think of "The Big Easy", "Down By Law", "Johnny Handsome"... okay, maybe don't think of "Johnny Handsome").
What Gabel does is make the house the characters stay in, a character itself. As they grow, the house starts to look a little less decayed. And New Orleans seems a little less swampy as well. I know I haven't talked about the story, but I'd rather not. You'll either see a little independent movie or you won't, but if you've kept up with Scarlett Johannsen's career at all, you probably will, as quirky little independents are mostly what she's done in the past few years. The Southern accents in this film are okay (always a big sticking point for my mom, Yankees doing bad Southern dialects), Travolta goes in and out, and almost everybody doing a deep South accent as opposed to a New Orleans one. Travolta, Johannsen and Gabriel Macht are supposed to be from Alabama and Florida, but the rest of the cast needed to be more "N'awlins" and less generic South.
I was born in New Orleans, and have been back several times. This film was a nice emotional placeholder until I can get back again.