BOBBY 1968, the Ambassador Hotel, filled with guests and service workers whose lives bear no connection except that they breathe the same air and inhabit the same spaces as Robert F. Kennedy in the 24 hours preceding his assassination. Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, Bobby is like an American-history textbook marked with thick yellow highlighter wherever a parallel might be detected between the Vietnam era and the reign of Bush II. Among the revelations: that, in ’68, America was embroiled in an unpopular, unwinnable foreign conflict; that the nation’s electoral process was rife with accusations of voter intimidation and fraud; and that, with a single burst of gunfire, the last hopes of an idealist counterculture were stamped out for good. Who knew? In the months it has been playing the festival circuit, Bobby has duped some ordinarily discerning critics into lauding it as a kind of?proletarian Grand Hotel, which says more about how void mainstream movies are of visions of working-class life than about Estevez’s insights into race and class in America, which rarely rise above the ebony-and-ivory-living-in-harmony level. (Especially nauseating is the bit where Freddy Rodriguez’s put-upon Latino kitchen worker gives his prized Dodgers tickets to Laurence Fishburne’s black, T.H. White–quoting chef.) Mostly the movie operates as a high-toned multicharacter soap opera, in which various people in crisis — a draft dodger (Elijah Wood) about to enter into a sham marriage with a high school classmate (Lindsay Lohan); a switchboard operator (Heather Graham) trying to end her affair with the hotel manager (William H. Macy); two campaign? volunteers (Shia LeBeouf and Brian Gerghty) wondering if their daylong LSD trip may have cost their boss the primary — resolve their differences in long-winded monologues that have the ring of greeting-card platitudes. All the while, Estevez pours on excerpts of Kennedy’s rousing campaign speeches so shamelessly that it’s easy to see how some viewers could get caught up in it — the movie is designed to be a nostalgia trip for the old and a “Gee, things weren’t so different back then” eye opener for the young. The only character who emerges as more than an ideological mouthpiece, and nearly saves the movie, is the Ambassador’s resident hairstylist, who masks her faded beauty with a thick coat of eye shadow and an overteased hairdo. I kept wondering who this deeply sad, earthy actress was, making so much out of so little, until I realized it was Sharon Stone in the most naked performance she’s ever given without taking her clothes off. The rest of the movie is emotional pornography of the sort that tends to go down well with Academy voters — no surprise that at the “for your consideration” screening I attended, there was hearty applause, and not a dry eye in the house. (ArcLight) (Scott Foundas)
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