Having found fame in front of the cameras in the likes of X-Men and Goldeneye, Famke Janssen turns writer and director with Bringing Up Bobby. Milla Jovovich gets to take the central role as a Ukrainian immigrant to America Olive, who’s raising a young son called Bobby (Spencer List).
Olive’s idea of parenting isn’t exactly textbook, as she’s a full-on con-woman, happy to say and do whatever she has to in order to get by, whether it’s convincing a salesman to let her go on a test drive so she can steal a car, or pretending she’s raising cash for poor foreigners.
Things begin to come to a head when a rich businessman, Walt (Bill Pullman), hits Bobby with his car. Olive’s subsequent bogus health insurance claim brings her to the attention of the authorities. Her past catches up with and she’s given a lengthy prison term. Bobby is taken in by Walt and his wife (Marcia Cross), giving his the structure he’s severely lacked. When she’s released, Olive has an immensely tough choice to make.
Bringing Up Bobby is a film that has some great moments and an excellent ending, but unfortunately the early parts of the film are problematic. Presumably we’re meant to think of Olive as a charming huckster and that while she’s a criminal, she doesn’t mean any harm and loves her son. However she actually comes as irresponsible, selfish, slightly unpleasant and caring little whether she destroys her son’s life, even if she does love him. Likewise Bobby is meant to be a cocky little tyke who’s always in trouble, but he mainly struck me as a nasty little asshole. To some extent all that’s necessary to make the ending work, where Olive has to choose whether it’s right for her to be part of her kid’s life, but it makes the early part of the movie rather unlikable at times.
It’s a tricky balance the film doesn’t quite pull off, and while some early scenes have great charm, overall it doesn’t quite work. It would have been even worse is it weren’t for Milla Jovovich, who works hard to pull us into Olive’s story and gives a good performance. It’s also worth remembering she’s not just playing a Ukrainian immigrant to America, as she is one herself – her lack of an accent often makes people forget she was born in the USSR.
Bill Pullman and Marcia Cross’ roles are sadly underwritten. Again it’s understandable, as the film wants to leave it open as to whether they are the best parents for Bobby, but it’s done by making them rather muddy characters rather than sharply written complex ones.
It’s not dreadful and the film is pretty watchable, but it has too problems to be a real success.
Overall Verdict: Famke Janssen shows promise as a director, but perhaps with her next effort, she should work with someone else to tighten the script and ensure the needs of the ending don’t undermine the earlier parts of the film.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac