By Carlos Serrano
What happens when your entire notion of the American dream is based on films? You might end up like Olive from Famke Janssen’s new film “Bringing up Bobby.”
Olive (Milla Jovovich) is a Ukrainian immigrant in America, trying to raise her son Bobby (Spencer List) as well as she can.
Unfortunately, she’s not the best role model. She can go from scolding her son for not doing well in school to conning a party full of people into giving her money.
You’re never quite sure what her history is, but you’re always sure of one thing at least, she loves her son.
Jovovich is without question the brightest star in the film. She injects the role of Olive with so much life that you can’t help but fall for her charm. Jovovich bounces through the first act, flirtatious and rebellious, always ready with a movie quote for any occasion.
When a would-be con victim, a Southern man, gets suspicious of her foreign accent she doesn’t hesitate to quote “Gone with the Wind” to get on his good graces.
In fact, Olive is such an interesting and likable character that she steals the spotlight from almost everyone else in the film.
List, while certainly not a cringe-worthy child actor, lacks the chops that Jovovich brings to the table. When Kent (Bill Pullman), a rich real estate business owner is introduced, the movie sometimes stops completely. Pullman, usually a strong actor, flounders about in his role as Kent. Whenever he shares a scene with Olive, it feels like he’s in over his head. But at least he has some personality. Kent’s wife Mary (Marcia Cross) simply exists.
The only character that comes close to being as memorable as Olive is her dim-witted accomplice, Walt. Played by Rory Cochrane, Walt is the comic relief of the film to great effect. When he’s not stumbling around, he comes up with this hilariously convincing English accent out of nowhere. He brings a dose of humor to a film that can get surprisingly sad.
When Olive’s criminal past catches up with her, it’s devastating. She’s just that charming. It’s only with the help of Kent and Mary that she has hope of eventually being reunited with her son.
To save him from the foster care system, she has to give him up so they can adopt him. Watching this up-until-now confident character break down in tears as she says in broken English, “I’m the only one he calls ‘mom,’ okay?” is a slap to the face after the fun in the first act. But it’s the best kind of slap to the face.
When Bobby is arrested for calling 911 to report a gunman on school grounds as a prank, all three of the adults in Bobby’s life are called in to the station to pick him up. As they wait to be updated on Bobby’s status, the three adults sit at a small table, Olive on one side, Mary and Kent on the other. The camera pulls back, and the resulting angle changes the view just slightly, but it’s enough to reinforce the space between the three, and the split that’s still developing.
Olive has to make a hard choice. Her own happiness or the future of her son. As she tries to explain what will be happening next to Bobby, she falls back to the one thing about America they both still find comforting: films.
One of the final shots of the film is Olive lying next to Bobby, telling him a story about a boy who grows up to be a “Master Jedi Warrior.” It’s the culmination of Olive’s transformation from her old life. There’s hope for them, but Olive must find the hope for herself first.
The fact that you end up rooting for them is a testament to the quality and heart of this film. Whether you’re laughing at the antics of Walter, or pretending not to tear up at Olive’s lowest points, “Bringing Up Bobby” hits you in ways not many films can.Contact Carlos Serrano.