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Bringing Up Bobby

2011 | 93 min | PG-13 | 1.85:1

Bringing Up Bobby


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Theatrical release date

 28 September, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Bringing Up Bobby Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, September 27, 2012

“Bringing Up Bobby” has all the good intentions in the world to tell an honest story about separation and the lasting sting of mistakes. Writer/director Famke Janssen (the “X-Men” star making her filmmaking debut) portrays her story earnestly, massaging an arc of personal responsibility that’s kindly enough, but rarely is it ever felt down deep in this underwhelming picture. A mismanaged drama with overheated performances and a general disinterest in following through on characterizations, “Bringing Up Bobby” doesn’t provide the soulfulness it aims to share. Instead, it stumbles through scenes without a consistent tone, hoping to shape something meaningful out of its display of misguided parenting. Janssen just doesn’t have the vision to achieve it.

A Ukrainian immigrant, Olive (Milla Jovovich) is trying to make a life for herself and pre-teen son Bobby (Spencer List) in Oklahoma, often relying on small-time scams and theft to provide for the pair. Permissive to a point of neglect, Olive trusts Bobby to raise himself, unable to turn down any of his requests, resulting in a bratty kid who doesn’t care about school or anything beyond the attention of his mother. When Bobby is accidentally hit by a car driven by multi-millionaire Kent (Bill Pullman), Olive attempts a grand insurance scam, only to find her past crimes catching up to her, resulting in a brief prison term that sends Bobby into the custody of Kent and wife Mary (Marcia Cross). Upon release, Olive looks to reclaim Bobby, only to find the boy settling into a posh life she could never provide. Caught between her parental instincts and financial ruin, the flashy mother faces a future without her boy, watching Bobby struggle under his new guardianship, unable to shed his troublemaking ways.

Reportedly based on Janssen’s own experiences coming to America, “Bringing Up Bobby” does offer that hunger for the liberation of a foreign land, driving straight into the center of Oklahoma to soak up southern zeal for community and religion. The contrast emphasizes Olive’s acting abilities as she attempts to pass off her heavily-accented ways as a natural fit, charming those suspicious of her with obvious lies, using her beauty and confidence as a way to distract from the ruin of her mothering skills. It’s an intriguing start to the movie, especially with Jovovich cranking up her habitual breathlessness to portray a woman using her flair with theatricality to keep trouble at bay, struggling to maintain her chameleon qualities while her monetary ambitions intensify. It’s not an especially inspired performance from the actress, but Olive’s initial criminal displays are appealing, suggesting a strange feature of specific toxic influence to come.

Janssen does pay close attention to Olive’s imprint on Bobby, scripting a boy at ease with a total lack of responsibility, matching his mother’s razzle-dazzle with his own exaggerated behavior, which often turns belligerent to outsiders. As the custody story takes over, the screenwriting loses flavor, biting off more than it can chew once Kent and Mary’s concerns are introduced, finding Olive reduced to menial labor to provide for herself, feeling uncomfortable around her partner-in-crime, dim-wit grifter Walt (an insufferable Rory Cochrane, tasked with providing comedy for the picture despite his inability to improvise). “Bringing Up Bobby” loses direction in its second half, not sure if it wants to dissect the discomfort of the parental arrangement or follow Olive’s rocky path of redemption. Janssen gets lost, diluting a critical sense of separation between the mother and her son beyond their shared sugar highs while also neglecting to inspect Bobby’s recognition of wrongdoing, rendering the child surprisingly unsympathetic, a development boosted by List’s simplistic performance -- a cringe-inducing offering of acting that makes Jake Lloyd’s work as Anakin Skywalker look Brando-esque by comparison.

“Bringing Up Bobby” eventually arrives in predictable places, a situation that would be more acceptable had the film invested deeply in its characters and subplots. There are positives here, with memorable locations visited and cinematographer Guido van Gennep’s HD work emphasizing bold colors and crisp faces, but the movie has no lasting impact. It’s melodrama without a firm grip, leaving a story with some potential to wander its way to the end credits.

Starring: Milla Jovovich, Bill Pullman, Marcia Cross, Rory Cochrane, Spencer List
Director: Famke Janssen

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