Review of Bringing Up Bobby

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A con artist and her son relocate to a conservative neighborhood in Oklahoma in an effort to build a better future, but it doesn't take long for her past to catch up with her, and for her son's behavior to cause problems of its own.
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Movie Review: "Bringing up Bobby"

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 93 minutes
Release date: September 28, 2012
Directed by: Famke Janssen
Genre: Comedy / Family

In "Bringing Up Bobby," Olive, played by Milla Jovovich, is a loving mother who wants the best for her preteen son, Bobby (Spencer List). She is raising the boy alone, which is never easy. In an effort to provide the best upbringing for Bobby, Olive resorts to a combination of the many tricks up her con artist sleeve in order to make ends meet. This loving but misguided mother soon realizes that more is required for Bobby to be the best man he can be. For starters, Olive has to admit that the con game may not be the proper place to raise a child.

Olive and Bobby have a close relationship as mother and son. They also work well as partners in crime. In fact, Bobby believes he will be a full partner to his mother's cons when he is older. This flies in the face of Olive's need to raise Bobby as an upstanding American citizen. Bobby goes to school, they try to live in a stable home, and Olive struggles to make sure he is nurtured and cared for. Her efforts are often in spite of Bobby's need to prove just how great of a partner he could be.

Olive soon discovers Bobby is flunking in school, pulling pranks, stealing, and lying. She also learns just how much he enjoys it. Her worst nightmare is that Bobby is truly a chip off the old block. It isn't like he is new to the work. The duo began their journey to Oklahoma being chased by the law. They stole a car, performed a bit of insurance fraud, and shoplifted from the beginning. Olive earns her living fleecing church-folk for their hard-earned dollar in an orphan donation scam. She also buys cars with phony checks and later sells them for cash. Honestly, Olive's urging Bobby to walk the straight and narrow comes off as a bit hypocritical.

However, that is why the film works. Olive loves her work and hates it at the same time. She knows what she is and what her work does to people. At the same time, she needs a way to care for her son, something that she is suited for with no real job skills and a thick Eastern European accent. Olive lives day-to-day in order to ensure that Bobby does not follow her down this path. She wants him to go to college and become a professional. The way this mother loves her son makes you forget she is a pro at bilking anyone with a wallet out of their funds. Director Famke Janssen succeeds in making you care for Olive by the end of the movie.

This is especially true in the events after Bobby is hit by a car driven by actor Bill Pullman, who plays a local businessman. A nosy neighbor and social workers help dig up Olive's past, while Olive plots an insurance scheme to rope in the car's wealthy driver. Olive is found out and quickly lands in jail. Bobby goes to a juvenile facility. The desperate mother does what she has to in order to get her son out of the system before it is too late. She signs custody of the boy over to the businessman and his wife (Marcia Cross). The couple recently lost a son about Bobby's age, so taking him in is actually a blessing for the family. Once out of prison, Olive comes to terms with the fact that she cannot work a straight (regular) job and that Bobby may just be better off without her.

"Bringing Up Bobby" is a film debut by Janssen, a model and actress ("House on Haunted Hill"). She based parts of Olive and Bobby's experience on her own experience as an immigrant from the Netherlands. Olive's thick accent and mangling of the English language is an authentic depiction as a result. Another theme that shines through is Olive's need to provide access to the American dream for her son, even if she is not there to see him achieve the dream. The mother's flaws melt into the background as the audience watches her struggle with the emotional decisions regarding her son's upbringing. These decisions are made even harder once it is revealed that Bobby idolizes his mother's work.

Janssen brilliantly captures Olive's predicament, while using a bit of comedy to detail her crimes. The film is also a departure from the action films in which lead actress Jovovich usually plays. Strong on the outside yet vulnerable on the inside, Olive is a fresh role that fits both the character and the actor well. In fact, "Bringing Up Bobby" seems to be a drama role in which Jovovich really shines.

Audiences will have to squint to see the butcher who fought Alice in the "Resident Evil" films. Jovovich, instead, brings a complexity to Olive that completes the film. Audiences may find themselves close to tears by the end of the movie.

Rating: 3 out of 5