L.A. Times Tom O'Neil hearts "Bobby" | The Moviegoer

L.A. Times Tom O'Neil hearts "Bobby"


From L.A. Times Gold Derby:

This Thursday will be Oscar Christmas for Harvey Weinstein. At last he'll unwrap "Bobby," which makes its North American debut at the Toronto Film Festival, and he'll discover if he's got a lump of coal or his first big contender for best picture since breaking with Miramax.

Considering Harvey's celebrated Oscarlust, we know how much this means to that Hollywood cowboy.

Hold your horses, Harvey. Looks like everything may turn out fine!

I have seen "Bobby." It's superb. It's got an excellent chance to put Harvey back in the derby again. It has many Oscar plusses, including so many big-name stars that, if just half of them vote for their own pic, that should get it into the top five. In addition to starpower, what's also crucial to break into that race is a Message ("Crash" = expose of continuing racial prejudice), even if political ("Platoon," "The Deer Hunter"). "Bobby's" got both of those covered since it's about the assassination of a political crusader against bigotry and the war in Vietnam. Most of all, Oscar voters want their best pic rivals to feel Important and "Bobby" oozes with urgent gravitas.

It's also — oh, yeah — a very good film.

What's impressive about it are the strongly felt performances. Sharon Stone sheds chic and glam to portray a soulful aging beautician who doles out life's wisdom, manicures, and bleach jobs to customers in the salon she runs at the hotel where Robert F. Kennedy will soon be shot. It's fun watching the onetime party gal give sober advice to today's Terror of the Club Scene, Lindsay Lohan, who pulls off the role of a jittery bride-to-be with panache. Other poignant perfs are given by Laurence Fishburne as a hotel chef who's discovered the recipe for peacefully challenging the white-dominated world. And Anthony Hopkins as the hotel's retired doorman who still hovers in the lobby, playing chess, because he can't let go. "Bobby" is full of lots of little stories like those, all poetically written and sensitively performed, depicting everyday people who'll soon have a tragic rendezvous with history in the kitchen. Interspersed is actual TV footage of RFK giving inspiring speeches about his hopes to change the world as he makes his way to the Ambassador hotel.

Naysayers claim it doesn't have big enough box office potential to land in the best-pic lineup (usually the winner must earn $100 million domestically). But "Crash" only reaped $54 million and "Good Night, and Good Luck" proved that a small film with a big political message can still be nominated. "Good Night" only made $31 million in U.S. theaters. "Bobby" will probably top that.

Beware: many film critics aren't going to like it because it's pretentious without being edgy or avant-garde. Many I've talked to are gunning for it, already trashing "Bobby" before they've seen it. Anything written and directed by a heartthrob like Emilio Estevez, can't be any good, they believe, and, besides, it's sentimental — cynical, unloved critic types hate that — and they can't wait to pick a fight with such an obvious Made-for-Oscars movie.

That may not matter. Academy members could ignore them because they love sentiment and films full of self-importance, if done right, and "Bobby" delivers. I'm not absolutely sure "Bobby" will make it into the top Oscar five, but I feel confident that it's got a good shot considering it'll probably be backed by the full force of Harvey's Ballyhoo Machine.

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