Movie Review ***: Bobby: Boring But Beneficial
Star-filled Movie More Educational Than Entertaining
By Bill Andrews
CAMPUS LIFE EDITOR
Written and Directed by Emilio Estevez
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Martin Sheen, William H. Macy, and Demi Moore
When the seasons change and the weather starts to get colder, the big movies also change and become “seriouser,” and more Oscar-worthy. The summer blockbusters are mostly out of theaters, and the biggest ads go to dramatic motion pictures, hyped as life-changing experiences. I went to see “Bobby” knowing all this, and so I was able to enjoy myself. For, despite it not being the greatest or most entertaining movie ever, I was able to see it for what it is; less an expression of art, or even a money-making opportunity, and more of a political statement.
The story is ostensibly about 22 people who had little in common except witnessing the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in the Ambassador Hotel in California. We follow, among others, the stories of married couples dealing with their age- or alcohol-related problems, of kids dealing with Vietnam and issues of valor and cowardice, and of immigrants dealing with racism and outlets for their anger. On the outside, “Bobby” is one of those movies not about a single story, but about groups of people and their connections, like “Crash” and “Magnolia.”
What makes “Bobby” different is that it’s really about an era, or, even more intangibly, about a feeling. Despite one of the most star-studded casts I’ve ever seen (at least 20 big names, and probably more that I didn’t recognize), the central character of Bobby Kennedy is actually played by himself, in the form of old video clips and recordings. By giving Bobby this almost mythic status (“he’s so special no one could portray him accurately,”) the audience is being whisked away into the mindset central to the movie: Bobby Kennedy was the last hope for a great America. As Dwayne, an African-American campaign worker says, “Now that Dr. King is gone, no one [is] left but Bobby — no one.” Sure, most of the movie is about these other people and their lives, but the pervading feeling almost every one of them has in common is hope for Bobby’s presidency, and then despair when they find out he’s been killed.
By trying to evoke for the audience what was (presumably) the wide-spread hopeful sentiment of the era, writer-director Emilio Estevez is presenting a stark contrast to the current political climate, and he pretty much succeeds. Even I, someone who wasn’t born until 15 years after Bobby’s death, could feel the sense of joy and hope, and later the loss and despair that I was supposed to. An era I had no first-hand experience with was made clearer to me, and I felt I could begin to understand what it was like back then, which was surely among Estevez’s goals. My mom, who saw “Bobby” with me and who lived through the events herself, assured me that this feeling was much stronger through her actual nostalgia, as opposed to an imagined one from me. We both left the theater disillusioned with the political process and wishing there was someone as charismatic, as just, as perfect for the presidency as Bobby Kennedy.
But the one fatal flaw in Bobby is, simply, that it’s boring. While the payoff at the end is certainly grand and the stories are generally interesting, I was never really taken with any of the stories, and found myself frequently looking at my watch. Had the stories been more compelling (perhaps going more in-depth with fewer characters), or the actors less famous (for the first hour, my mom and I found ourselves playing “who’s that?” in every scene) I would have been able to really lose myself in the movie, making the final moments of the film that much more moving and emotional. As it is, the ending is clearly the best part of the whole movie, as all the stories finally tie into one another and we hear a steady stream of Bobby’s speeches; the irony of hearing him speak at length about justice and non-violence, while his blood is spattered on the ground and those nearby, was impossible to miss, and it made his words that much more bittersweet.
Even with all the flaws, it was still worthwhile to see “Bobby.” For someone like myself, who’s only ever seen the sixties on a screen, being able to get a taste of the feelings and emotions of those days is a nice experience, and I imagine actually remembering those feelings is pretty nice too. It’s a little sad that Estevez didn’t make a more interesting movie, but then again, it’s a sad movie. The last hope of a generation was brutally killed on what should have been a day of triumph, and everyone, whether you were part of a loveless marriage or an angry immigrant, felt the country’s loss on that day.