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Sunday, November 26, 2006


When I first heard that Emilio Estevez was making a movie called Bobby about the 1960s icon of the same name I was absolutely thrilled. It was about time Bobby got his due. So long neglected, and so deserving of recognition for all he brought to the world, who better to get the big screen treatment than Bobby? He filled pages of magazines and columns of newspapers in the 1960s and young people across this country hung on his every word. I know I certainly did. He shaped the 1960s as far as I was concerned. Every since I first saw him on television in 1964 I knew I would follow him to the ends of the earth. I simply ADORED Bobby Sherman and he deserved to be immortalized for his work on “Shindig!”, “Getting Together”, "Here Come the Brides", and that underappreciated bridge to multiculturalism, "Sanchez of Bel Air". It made perfect sense that a man named Estevez would be the one to appreciate Sherman’s visionary efforts to bring together the Latino and prevailing Anglo cultures of Los Angeles and make both stronger. Or it WOULD have made sense in a more perfect world, but this is our world and so my hopes were ruptured as quickly as the optic nerves of anybody unfortunate enough to have actually gazed directly at Kirstie Alley’s thighs the day she flashed them while parading about in her bikini on Oprah!. So it turns out that THIS Bobby wasn’t about MY Bobby at all. We’re talking Bobby Kennedy here. But that’s good too.

In case anyone doubts my sincerity, let me assure you that if I had been old enough to vote at the time I am certain I would most assuredly have cast my ballot for
Bobby. He was, in my opinion, by far the most charismatic of the Kennedy brothers, and he definitely held the hopes of a generation in his heart as the world spiraled out of control.

It was 1968. The US languished in a seemingly perpetual and unwinnable non-officially declared war in Vietnam, with tens of thousands of American young men dead, and hundreds of thousands permanently wounded and disabled, and for what? Nobody seemed to be able to answer that question satisfactorily and some would still argue that is the case today. At home drugs were just beginning to consume what was left of the generation who was not being sent off to slaughter, and the economy was sluggishly headed downhill. Lyndon Johnson, who ascended to the Presidency only when
Bobby’s brother had been assassinated, did not want to run for re-election, which left the Democratic Party and the peace movement with only one last hope – Bobby Kennedy, JFK’s younger brother and now the presumed Democratic candidate for President this year. Bobby embraced the civil rights movement, which was still in its infancy back then, and he was considered “courageous” simply for standing up as a white man and saying it was not okay to let minorities live in poverty and filth. Can you imagine?

So this is the man who the movie Bobby is extraneously about, though he is hardly the main focus you will see when you settle in with your popcorn. Estevez, better known as an actor than director, producer or screenwriter, though accomplished as all four (see The War at Home for an example of his behind the scenes talent), weaves a complex ribbon of stories in the tradition of Grand Hotel in recreating the last 16 hours or so before the assassination of the Senator from New York. There are tales enough to keep any network soap opera going for at least a year, so the pace is rapid and the actors move quickly and with a broad brush in establishing their roles/stereotypes/cultural representatives within our societal patchwork to take us on a journey exploring racism, sexism, social injustice, prejudice, adultery, sexual politics, and much more.

Among the characters are two elderly gentlemen, John Casey (Anthony Hopkins; All the King’s
Men) and Nelson (Harry Belafonte; White Man’s Burden) who clearly care for one another even as the world they were once a vital part of has left them behind in their old age. John was the doorman at the Ambassador Hotel where the story takes place (and the infamous assassination took/will take place) for more than forty years and now that his wife has died he has nowhere to go and so he continues to spend his days at the hotel, playing chess with his friend who drops by to visit. Nelson is obviously sliding into the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease and will no doubt be leaving John soon in one way or the other, but until then they will share their time together and curse the failings of age. Their bond of friendship has stood the test of decades and not once has color been an issue, or at least if it ever has,
Bobby shows us that in the end, as we get older and have a lifetime of experience to call on, none of it matters. It’s the friends and bonds we make that are what fill us with happiness.

Also involved in the drama are the complicated domestic goings-on of the hotel manager Paul (William H. Macy; Inland Empire), who is having an affair with switchboard operator Angela (Heather Graham; Gray Matters), at least half his age, who is participating simply because she feels it is the only way she knows to keep her job. Meanwhile, Paul’s wife Miriam (Sharon Stone; Alpha Dog) has her hands busy as the hotel hairdresser who hides her own insecurities about growing older while coping with the hotel’s demanding diva, singer and raging alcoholic Virginia Fallon (Demi Moore; Half Light). Virginia is scheduled to introduce Senator Kennedy at a rally at the hotel later this very evening as the polls close after the California state primary and by mid-afternoon she is so drunk she can’t hold her head up yet alone sing.

In another part of the hotel is Diane (Lindsay Lohan; Just My Luck) as a teenage bride-to-be, who is nervously ready to marry William (Elijah Wood; Everything Is Illuminated), a classmate of hers from high school, to help him escape being sent to Vietnam since he has been drafted and the Army won’t send married men to the front. What William doesn’t seem to understand is that Diane has real feelings for him even if he sees this simply as a “favor”.

Meanwhile, downstairs in the kitchen all kinds of issues bubble. There are problems with Timmons (Christian Slater; Alone in the Dark) not allowing the food service workers the opportunity to leave to go vote, which he explains to Paul as unnecessary since most of them are “undocumented” anyway. His obvious contempt for the Mexican immigrant workers in the kitchen makes for a hostile work environment and causes friction between the Latinos and African Americans, with one of the chefs, Edward Robinson (Lawrence Fishburne; Akeelah and the Bee) and a busboy, Jose (Freddy Rodriguez; Harsh Times), doing their best to maintain order while balancing their jobs and own personal feelings simultaneously.

Of course there are other stories as well. Ashton Kutcher (The Guardian) is hilarious as a drug dealing hippy named Fisher who introduces two of the squeaky-clean Kennedy teen volunteers to LSD. Shia LeBeouf (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) and Brian Geraghty (We Are Marshall) are righteous as the “consciousness-exploring” young men, who get a shocking slap of reality as the night progresses.

Estevez’ real-life father Martin Sheen (The Departed) plays Jack, a man struggling to reconnect to his wife, Samantha (Helen Hunt; A Good Woman). He has been recently released from a mental hospital where he was treated for depression, and, this being 1968, she is struggling to understand and accept his illness as more than a reflection on her or some kind of character flaw of his.

And in the midst of all of these sagas there is even time for a small look into the lives of the campaigners themselves, showing local
organizer Wade (Joshua Jackson; The Shadow Dancer) and idealistic volunteer Dwayne (Nick Cannon; Even Money) as they dream of a world where Kennedy, as President, can inspire and change so many lives.

Estevez does a terrific job playing these stories out in such a way that each crosses paths at just the right moments so that time advances throughout the day at a pace that moves the film forward towards its inevitable conclusion.

As Wade is saying “good night” to his friend Nelson and sending him on his way out of the hotel, Senator Kennedy is entering, and before long the inescapable
tragedy is played out. Throughout the picture small snippets of RFK’s speeches, interviews and public appearances have been interspersed into the stories via characters televisions being left on or by having reporters on the scene before the Senator’s scheduled appearance recalling his words, etc. as a way to remind viewers of his powerful message of hope. In the moments leading up to the shooting, the Senator is never actually shown at the podium, but while the characters convene throughout the ballroom and Kennedy’s killer is seen entering the hotel and making his way towards his victim we hear some of Kennedy’s most moving words ever. When, finally, the man is felled, it is difficult not to hold back the tears, even harder when Estevez shows the various reactions and roles (active and passive) of the characters we’ve watched until now. Their hurt, their loss of faith, their needing to find something or someone familiar to bring them comfort is all too human, and this story becomes one everybody can painfully understand.

Bobby is a triumph for Estevez. Hopefully it won’t be another ten years before we see another “Directed By” movie of his playing at the Essex Cinemas. This former Brat Packer has a real gift.

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