Come September and sometimes even before, moviegoers begin to hear rumors about new films that stand a good chance of picking up Oscar gold even before they are released. All the films whose premises show ambition are noted for their potential to garner a statuette or two next spring. Some, however, just blow over in the wind of public discretion after their fall release. Bobby is one such flop.
Bobby is a series of stories interconnected only by virtue of their all taking place at the Ambassador Hotel the night that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. The story shows perspectives from the kitchen employees, the hotel guests and the campaign coordinators for Kennedy among many, many others. The narratives are spliced with actual footage of the then-junior senator from New York, including video of the campaign trail, speeches and the infamous last moments of his life celebrating his California primary victory. The story itself is severely disjointed and simply never comes together in any meaningful way.
Writer/director Emilio Estevez wrote the film as a mishmash of separate vignettes, each intended to symbolize a different aspect of 1968 culture, from segregation to drug experimentation to Vietnam. The stories each, because they are impossible to look at as a whole, try desperately to achieve poignancy, but instead come off as sappy at best. The actions and dialogue both seem forced, such as the depiction of the Once and Future King upon the kitchen wall where the fallen candidate’s blood spatters.
And spare me the orchestral movements over the supposed emotional moments. This is not E.T.’s last flight. Perhaps Estevez should have looked into the endless supply of authentic 1960s music to supplement his film instead of borrowing from a cheap, atmospheric, Coldplay copycat, similarly out of place modern pop gospel and faux John Williams scores.
Everyone from Mighty Duck Joshua Jackson to fellow recovering Brat Packer Demi Moore to sometime rapper Nick Cannon to sometime Even Steven Shia LeBeouf appears in one of Bobby’s innumerable vignettes. And, of course, daddy Martin Sheen spits out a line or two. It seems as though Estevez assembled this sideshow of a cast by phoning everyone he’d ever costarred with in an attempt at a comeback. Notably, Helen Hunt makes her first appearance in a major release since 2001, though unfortunately in a role that suits neither her nor the film.
Really, it seems that everyone is in it for the cameo and that no one actually has a role. Few even try all that hard, including Anthony Hopkins, who as the hotel manager barely feigns an American accent. The cast is even bigger than the ever-increasing squad of castaways on Lost, and thus, no character is ever really developed.
Estevez had good intentions in making a film about the younger prince of Camelot, but this is not the right movie to do Robert Kennedy justice. This story is literally everything but Bobby’s own. Since the interspersed footage of the would-be president is so much more charismatic and moving than that of the actual film, it dooms the story to fail because no other character elicits sympathy. Bobby’s footage has so much undeniable charisma, and I can see how Estevez would be so inspired to create a film surrounding it. But this was the wrong vehicle for the story. It should have been about Bobby, not everything but.
The movie type du jour is the Robert Altman-esque bunch of stories that intersect somehow, but now that the storied director has died, films like Bobby which fail in that design really prove how amazing Altman was. This movie is not cohesive, nor is it coherent. This is no Love Actually, no Crash and certainly no Robert Altman film. Above all, it is not a film about Bobby Kennedy. Gordon Bombay may have taught us how to fly, but Emilio Estevez could not get this picture off the ground.