Crowded depiction of 1960s America

Bobby, 120 minutes. Rated: M. Director: Emilio Estevez. Starring: William H. Macy, Lindsay Lohan, Anthony Hopkins, Demi Moore. Website.

Crowded depiction of 1960s AmericaIf it’s true that "less is more", then somebody forgot to tell Emilio Estevez. The writer/director has squeezed so many big-name actors into this political ensemble drama that Bobby feels like a stroll through an Oscars after party.

Apart from the above-listed, there’s also Helen Hunt, Martin Sheen, Ashton Kutcher, Laurence Fishburne, Joshua Jackson, Heather Graham, Christian Slater, Sharon Stone and Elijah Wood, as well as Estevez himself. They’re crammed shoulder to shoulder in a film whose events unfold at the Ambassador Hotel in LA on 4 June 1968—the site and date of popular presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Making full use of this vast cast, Estevez ambitiously, and not particularly successfully, structures the film around a wide array of subplots, which jostle for position on the overcrowded stage, while the impending, fateful visit of the title character hovers over the proceedings in mythic proportions.



A young woman (Lohan) weds a boy from her school to prevent him being sent to fight in Vietnam. An African-American chef (Fishburne) lectures a Latino kitchen hand about oppression. Two Kennedy campaigners (Shia Labeouf and Brian Geraghty) slack off and spend the day tripping with their drug dealer (Kutcher). A retired doorman (Hopkins) reflects on his reputable career, while spouting trite life metaphors over a game of chess with a fellow retiree (Harry Belafonte).

Clearly it’s not just in the realm of casting that Estevez has favoured the "more is more" approach. Thematically, it seems, he’s tried to cover every cultural and social issue facing America in the 1960s.

Apart from Vietnam, the rise of drug culture, and shifting racial relations (where the Mexican is the new 'Nigger'), the film references the changing role of women, the hollowness of consumerism, shifting sexual and relationship values, the nature of celebrity (Kennedy was killed the day after artist Andy Warhol’s non-fatal shooting), all the while keeping a keen eye on one particular historical sporting event.

Crowded depiction of 1960s AmericaIt’s a lot of plates to have in the air and, to his credit, Estevez does a reasonable job of keeping them all spinning. He also draws textured, realistic performances from every member of the cast (although his own performance, as the neglected husband of Moore’s alcoholic singer Virginia Fallon, is rather stilted).

But ultimately the lack of a coherent, unifying thesis proves to be to the film’s detriment. Indeed it’s only when the characters’ lives ultimately converge around the tragic final events (recreated using clever camera angles intercut with historical news footage) that the film manages to attain some semblance of focus. But it’s too little too late; in trying to say too much, Estevez ultimately says very little.

 

 

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