When does a mother’s love for her child lead to his criminality? The recent massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, makes this question potent, and channels the often comic Bringing Up Bobby into something more serious and controversial.
On the surface, Bringing Up Bobby is not novel. A very attractive, uniquely charming, Ukrainian single mom named Olive (Milla Jovovich) must hustle to support her highly precocious, American-born, 10-year-old son, Bobby (Spencer List). Olive has an on-again-off-again, petty-criminal boyfriend named Walt (Rory Cochrane). Walt appears to lead Olive down the path of destruction—much like a Film Noir in reverse. This trio of Bonnie and Clydes, roam the country, wreaking petty havoc. They steal cars, live on the sly, and ponder the perfect crime that will put them on Easy Street. It is only after they settle in ultra-conservative Oklahoma, and Bobby has a (literal) run-in with real estate mogul Kent (Bill Pullman), that all hell breaks loose—and not in a good way…
Everything about actress/director Famke Janssen’s Bringing Up Bobby is a little something other than what we see and hear. There’s something lurking beneath every surface of character, color, situation, and even time—and that’s what gives us pause. What keeps Bobby from catapulting toward David Lynchland, and landing in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone is subtlety—and an elasticized universal-hold in reality that pulls us back when we go too far the other way.
Janssen’s film is situated in contemporary America, but beautiful Olive has the animated look of a 1940’s, neon-colored cartoon. Set against the often dank and rural colors of Oklahoma, this becomes slightly disturbing. It is as if Olive is a visitor from another time and space. This coupled with Kent’s wife Mary (Marcia Cross) creates a discomfort that can only be experienced, to be described.
And all of these constructs, designed so carefully by Janssen, fall into place— as if by accident— to create a timeless warp where every character is a bit out of synch with the world around them. Olive tries to fight this, by trying to create and control her son’s world. Olive wants desperately, for Bobby to be happy, and for she and her son to lollygag the universe like two magical kids from Peter Pan. But always, the necessity for money hangs above Olive’s head, like a monstrous black cloud, destroying Bobby’s innocence, and her own. How can the macrocosm she invented for her son survive without money?
And so leading by criminal example (the only way she knows), it is no surprise when Bobby follows in her footsteps—and from here on in, Bringing Up Bobby takes a very serious turn from the plastic world of cinema, into the one we know all to well.
Bringing Up Bobby is strongly recommended for both young teens and adults. It is a film that will help all of us survive and move on, in the beautiful yet uncomfortable world of our own making.