A Love Song for Bobby Long aims to be an off-kilter yet heartwarming tale, but mostly it just plants itself in the middle of Crazyville and refuses to leave. John Travolta stars as Bobby Long, a down-and-out former literature professor turned raging alcoholic. Unfortunately, his dark secrets from the past have him now pinning all his hopes on his protege and former teaching assistant, Lawson Pines (Gabriel Macht). Lawson is supposedly writing his masterpiece, a book based on Bobby's life that will shoot them both to stardom. Enter Pursy Will (Scarlett Johansson), who comes to claim the house her mother left her that Bobby and Lawson now occupy. The two squatters refuse to leave, and a staring match ensues to see who will break down and run first. Of course, eventually Pursy's luminous presence drives both to be better men and the three form the ultimate unconventional family.
The end of the movie almost saves the rest. It borders on sweet, becoming less of a caricature of the mysterious and atmospheric South that the rest of the movie seems bent on capturing. But the first 50 minutes of the film are nearly unbearable.
Most of the blame can be put squarely on Travolta's shoulders. He plays Bobby by resurrecting the accent and good ol' boy charm he used in Primary Colors, only this time injecting it with such a large dose of creepy uncle syndrome. While Johannson and Macht are very good, Bobby is so ridiculously overpowering that sometimes it's hard to notice what else is going on. For a more subtly nuanced Travolta performance, check out the Look Who's Talking trilogy. No, seriously.