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Originally published Friday, January 28, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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"Love Song" showcases quiet charm of Scarlett Johansson

John Travolta slips into a Southern accent and a shuffling gait for "A Love Song for Bobby Long," a sentimental but occasionally moving drama from first-timer...

Seattle Times movie critic

John Travolta slips into a Southern accent and a shuffling gait for "A Love Song for Bobby Long," a sentimental but occasionally moving drama from first-timer Shainee Gabel. Travolta plays the title character, a middle-age former professor with a sparse cap of white hair and an alcohol problem, and he's haunted by something that happened long ago. You can guess what it is, if you make much of an effort, but better to let this movie wend its laid-back way through its two hours. Enjoy the film for the colorful New Orleans atmosphere, filled with the washed-soft shades of a bayou rainbow, and for the face of Scarlett Johansson, a rare young actress who understands the power of silence.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer 2.5 stars

"A Love Song for Bobby Long," with John Travolta, Scarlett Johansson, Gabriel Macht, Deborah Kara Unger, Dane Rhodes. Written and directed by Shainee Gabel, based on the novel "Off Magazine Street," by Ronald Everett Capps. 119 minutes. Rated R for language including some sexual references. Metro.

Nothing seems to happen in a hurry in this corner of New Orleans, which explains the movie's slow pace. It begins with the death of Lorraine, a singer in whose house Bobby has lived for some time, along with his protégé Lawson (Gabriel Macht) who's working on a book about Bobby's life. Enter Purslane Hominy Will (Johansson) — whose name is, like some of this movie's ladeled-on quirkiness, a bit much. She's Lorraine's long-estranged daughter, returning home to start again, and she gets caught up in Bobby and Lawson's slow-moving lives.

The plot doesn't matter much here, and the film's big revelation won't come as a surprise to anyone. But "Bobby Long" works best as a quiet reminder of Johansson's talent. Like the character she played in "Lost in Translation," Pursey is a young woman not quite formed, wondering what to do with the empty spaces in her life. Many of the film's loveliest moments feature Johansson (who, at 20, has the curvy beauty of a classic-era screen siren) simply staring into the distance, lost in her own thoughts. Beside Travolta's too-busy performance, she's a welcome oasis of stillness.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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