Dallas IFF 2012 Review: Bringing Up Bobby


Famke Janssen’s directorial debut is a solid story about the biggest sacrifice a mother can make for her son

Actor turned directors are a dime a dozen, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when Famke Janssen’s (X-Men) name turned up as the director of a new film in the Dallas International Film Festival program. The surprise came as the famous director herself was seen chatting with fans at the Magnolia like they were old friends, and then as the film played and it was surprisingly good.

Olive (Milla Jovovich) is a single mother who immigrated to the United States from her home country of the Ukraine in order to provide a better life for herself. Once here, she fell in love and had a baby, then the father left her and forced her to live the American dream the best she could. Her vision of that dream is somewhat tainted by the movies of her childhood, as she dresses like Greta Garbo yet acts like the female half of Bonnie & Clyde.

With her son now ten years old, Olive bounces from city to city in Oklahoma, swindling people out of their money however she can. Olive is a con artist.

Olive eventually lands a house for her, her son Bobby, and her con artist partner in crime Walt (Rory Cochrane), so they can properly pretend to be a normal American family. When Bobby is hit by a car driven by Kent, a wealthy real estate tycoon (Bill Pullman), while skateboarding in the street, Olive is terrified for her son, and at the same time elated that her ship has come in. (Pullman) and his wife Mary (Marcia Cross) have lost a son of their own, and they immediately begin giving Olive monetary compensation for their medical and emotional damages.

At the pinnacle of Olive’s excitement for a new future for her son, she is publicly arrested for her crimes and literally ripped from Bobby’s outstretched arms. With no close family to speak of, Olive must relinquish her custody of Bobby either to a foster family, or be adopted by Kent and Mary.

Even though Olive is a despicable character, she is also easily forgiven and empathized with by the audience. She does these things only because she wants to provide for her son. So when the tone of the film changes halfway through, the sweet, strong bond between mother and son has already been so effectively established and it’s only that much more heartwrenching when they are separated. We feel every emotion as Olive feels it. From guilt for what she has done, to jealousy of seeing another woman acting as mother to her child, to defeat as she struggles with relapsing her old behavior. Milla Jovovich has the most perfect expressions to convey this roller coaster range of emotion; when her lips quiver as she tries to fight back tears, ours do too.

The relationship between mother and son is an interesting one in this film. When Bobby is with Olive, he emulates her behavior. He dresses like a 1930’s era newsie with his knickers, suspenders, and pageboy cap. He’s also despicable himself, pulling awful pranks on people like having Walt’s motorcycle towed. He has a foul mouth and has a negative influence on children in the neighborhood and at school. When he goes to live with Kent and Mary, he begins to change his tune. He seems to flourish in a stable environment, until after a few months, he begins hanging out with old school friends again.

Janssen wrote the film herself, inspired by her own experience as a European making a life in America, and said during the Q&A after the screening that she was really inspired by films of the 70’s. She compared Bringing Up Bobby to films like Bonnie and Clyde and Harold and Maude, in which the film makes a drastic tonal shift approximately halfway through. The characters are set up, everything seems to be going just fine, then events happen that make the film much more dark. It’s an impressive goal to have, and what makes this more impressive is that she actually pulls it off.

There is so much going on in Janssen’s Bringing Up Bobby and therefore so much that could go wrong. Filming was a nightmare, like so many films are when they’re being made, and she shot in Oklahoma in the summer of 2010 during a heat wave of over 100 degree weather. Making a first film is a feat in itself, and she should be commended for beating so many odds. A female Bond girl/superhero/actress turned seriously talented filmmaker. This film deserves the release it will be getting this fall. Be watching for it.

Director: Famke Janssen
Notable Cast: Milla Jovovich, Spencer List, Rory Cochrane, Bill Pullman, Marcia Cross
Writer(s): Famke Janssen

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