Making the Grades
Movies about historical political figures are often shown in high school classrooms -- even when their MPAA rating (like the R assigned to this film) would indicate they are not appropriate for teens. As well as being a candidate for it's possible educational value, the enthusiasm and ardent left-wing fan base behind Bobby (and right leaning opposition), will likely also have the production being considered for the 2006's Political Hot Potato Movie Award -- an unofficial category to which at least one film subscribes each year.
For adults contemplating sharing this movie with young audiences, it is necessary to look past the rhetoric, be aware of the possible objectionable content and weigh in the artistic merits of this work. But more important than any of these elements is a firm understanding of what is fact, and what is fiction.
Bobby is set at the real and famed Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles (a building with so many stories and legends that it is worthy of its own movie script), where a young Palestinian man shot U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy on the eventful day of June 6, 1968. Everything else is pure Hollywood fantasy.
The film opens early on that summer morning and begins introducing what seems like a cast of thousands (there are at least 24 characters). These include a retired doorman (Anthony Hopkins) who loves the glitz and bustle of the hotel's constant flow of guests and practically lives in the lobby playing chess with an old friend (Harry Belafonte). The establishment's manager (William H. Macy) holds liberal views toward the many illegal Mexican immigrants populating the building's kitchen. Among these hard-working souls is Jose (Freddy Rodriquez), and his wise and thoughtful mentor Edward (Laurence Fishburne) -- a chef that represents the progress of African Americans, even though it still means serving his bigoted boss Timmons (Christian Slater) special helpings of his cobbler dessert.
Sharon Stone plays the hotel manager's wife and Heather Graham is his mistress. Demi Moore takes on the role of an alcoholic lounge singer and Ashton Kutcher is a drug-selling hippie. The characters played by Lindsay Lohan and Elijah Wood get married to keep the young man from going to Vietnam. There are more, but that should be sufficient to represent the scope covered in the movie's "day in the life of a hotel" premise.
The style of this production shares a close likeness with last year's (2005) Oscar winning Crash. Writer/director Emilio Estevez (who is also on screen as the alcoholic singer's husband) truly does marvelous work managing his army of characters, and giving us at least enough time to have a feel for each face. These multiple storylines are brought together with deft editing finesse, which features many minutes of actual footage of Kennedy himself. Yet, unlike Crash, there is no mystery in how this story will end. Instead, there is just the relentless ticking of time as the inevitable and unalterable events of history unfold.
Content issues of concern are substance abuse, language, and violence. Kutcher's druggie persona extols the virtues of acid, telling two other characters that it's the only way to be closer to God, and even does a small demonstration showing how to use it. The tripped out boys toss furniture out the hotel window and wander around the room naked (rear male nudity is seen). Profanities are moderately frequent, and the sexual expletive is heard a half-dozen times. Finally, the scene of Kennedy's assassination shows characters covered in blood.
Yet perhaps the greatest point for viewers to acknowledge is that this movie merely presents icons symbolizing the period in which the story takes place. Estevez offers an inventory of the top issues of the time, like feminism, immigration, prejudice, drugs, and the draft. His admiration for Kennedy is very evident too, and the late senator's speeches about peace and shunning violence are the most poignant and engaging moments of this film. Certainly, as writer and director, he has brought all these elements together with great skill-- but like the Political Hot Potato Movie Award, the bulk of this movie is passionate fiction and not political history.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Bobby.
The creator of this film, Emilio Estevez, has chosen to surround an actual historical figure with an assortment of fictional stories. What artistic liberties does this approach provide as compared to doing a biographical movie on the life of Robert F. Kennedy? How may it allow a writer to change the perspective—either positively or negatively—in which the real-life character is presented?
How might the use of actual footage of Senator Kennedy affect our impressions about the reality of the other characters presented in this film?