Bringing Up Bobby, 2011.
Written and Directed by Famke Janssen.
Starring Milla Jovovich, Bill Pullman, Rory Cochrane, Marcia Cross and Spencer List.
Despite con artist Olive’s (Milla Jovovich) aspirations for a better future for her son, her arrest sees Good Samaritans Kent (Bill Pullman) and Mary (Marcia Cross) take over his guardianship.
Debut films will inevitably be hindered by flaws; they are unlikely to be perfect. That said two recent directorial feature debuts, Makinov’s Come Out and Play and Ian Clark’s Brit horror The Facility, were full of promise. Look back far enough and the Soska Sisters' Dead Hooker in a Trunk and Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi were two debut films that were were rough around the edges yet equally showcased a raw creative talent that could mature with time and experience. There was a sense of inspired energy about these films, infused with an inspired vision.
Famke Janssen’s directorial debut Bringing Up Bobby is an uninspiring effort, with no evidence to suggest that Janssen should either expect nor try to make the jump to writing or directing Without bearing her soul and offering us something courageous and original, she struggles to tell this mother-son story well.
It is a common philosophy amongst writers that no amount of good writing can compensate for the absence of the great idea. It is where every story they say should start, but this is untrue. Sometimes all a writer needs to do is to take a story which has been told time and time again, and just tell it well.
There are those films that disappoint that can spark debate, despite an overwhelming sense of disappointment. Bringing Up Bobby is one of those rare films in which you relinquish the desire to discuss your misgivings. There is just the desire to move on, and as Debi says in Grosse Pointe Blank, “Forget about forgive and just accept.”
The competent cast of Bill Pullman and Marcia Cross cannot help Bringing Up Bobby punch in or above its weight category. Cross’ performance looks and feels like an extension of her Desperate Housewives character Bree Van de Kamp. When Bobby refers to Kent (Pullman) as Superman, so frustrated at this point, I just wanted the film to sink into an entertaining absurdity with the reply, “No, the former President of the United States of America and star of David Lynch’s Lost Highway.”
The American director Howard Hawks maintained that you cannot try too hard with comedy; it cannot be forced. Whether Janssen tried too hard I’m unsure, but the film feels for much of the first half that it is suffocating under the weight of Jovovich’s quirky and clichéd performance. Both Jovovich and Pullman’s accents feel decidedly forced, hindering both comedy and performance alike.
Imbuing the film with a quirky lead character and clichés only compounds the films lack of originality. Few dramas can effectively employ clichés and quirks without caving under their weight, and first time writer-director Janssen is powerless to manipulate these pitfalls
The conclusion Janssen is attempting to reach is an emotionally charged one, and in order for this emotional pay-off the narrative needs to be both meticulously threaded and paced. Bringing Up Bobby is as much a journey for us as it is Olive, and unfortunately the human drama never feels fully developed or realised, skating on the surface of the relationships as we are left wanting more from this journey.
Flickering Myth Rating - Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Paul Risker is co-editor in chief of Wages of Film, freelance writer and contributor to Flickering Myth and Scream The Horror Magazine.