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Bringing Up Bobby (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 27, 2023



Starring Milla Jovovich, Bill Pullman, Marcia Cross, Rory Cochrane, Spencer List, Renata Batista, Justin Hall, Shelli Fox, Ray Prewitt, Lauren Analla, Phillip Borghee, Dan Corley, Rick Eager, Eric Starkey, Dalton Olive, Jon Bielich, Patrick Michael Flannigan, Milton Killen, Paul Dietz and Ana Anderson.

Screenplay by Famke Janssen.

Directed by Famke Janssen.

Distributed by Monterey Media.  95 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Famke Janssen, a glamorous Holland-born model-turned-actress who has put together a respectable body of work before the camera, does not seem to be the type to be behind Bringing Up Bobby, a somewhat gritty look at the life of an Ukrainian con woman and her son in modern backwater Oklahoma.

Bringing Up Bobby is a well-meaning but flawed indie attempt to mix crime, immigration and family values.  It doesn’t quite reel in all it’s ideas, but it has some charming moments.

Perhaps the main problem is one of battling styles, in a recent interview Janssen told me the film was strongly influenced by 1930s Hollywood studio films and 1970s dramas.  Those two eras are very far removed, stylistically, and Bringing Up Bobby seems to pop back and forth between the screwball tendencies of old Hollywood and the more hardened, gritty world view of the 70s new wave.  The mix is occasionally a bit awkward, but it has some very interesting quirks that make it kind of intriguing.

Milla Jovovich plays Olive, a Ukrainian immigrant with a twelve year old son named Bobby (Spencer List).  They have somehow ended up in Oklahoma, and are surviving by committing a series of petty cons – stealing cars from dealerships, scamming pizzas and sporting goods, walking in front of moving cars.

It’s not a great way of life, but it’s all they know.  Olive dotes on her son and obviously does want to make sure her son’s life goes better than hers.  However, when she inevitably gets caught in one of her scams, she talks a well-off couple (Bill Paxton and Marcia Cross) who had hit Bobby with their car into fostering the boy until she gets out of jail.  The couple, who lost a son who was about Bobby’s age, agrees to do it.  However, when Olive does get out, she realizes that her son is in a better living situation than she could ever provide.  She must balance her need to make sure he has the best in life with her love for him and the fact she misses him.

The main problem here is that, honestly, Bobby is kind of a punk.  I know that’s the point.  I know his mother, who loves and dotes on him and devotes herself to finding him a better life, has ironically turned her son into the kind of kid who would steal from his foster parents without a second thought or isn’t smart enough to avoid doing a scam which inadvertently locks down a local high school.  Still, he is smug, he’s a liar, he’s unfriendly to most people other than his mother, he often does foolish things and thus the audience has some real problems getting worked up worrying about whether his life will turn out well.

Is that a problem of nature or nurture?  Bringing Up Bobby seems to argue that it is nurture, and perhaps it is correct.  More importantly, the mother Olive finally grows up through her experiences.  She learns that life is not just a movie and there are ramifications in actions.  She also finds out that doing what is best for her child is not always the same as doing what is best for herself.

It is far from a perfect movie, but Bringing Up Bobby is such of an odd duck of a film that it is rather lovable.  It shows you worlds you will never see in other films, and in enough cases here that is a good thing to make the movie a worthwhile discovery.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 All rights reserved. Posted: September 28, 2012.


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