A Love Song for Bobby Long is set in that part of the American South that exists only in an English major's book-lined imagination. Moss hangs from the branches of trees like...well, like moss hanging from the branches of trees. And the air is thick with the smell of Carson McCullers, whose novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter figures prominently in the plot. Actors should perhaps declare a moratorium on the Southern drawl, which is so easy and so hard to nail down. But here's a dissolute-looking John Travolta, wrapping his lips around an Alabama accent that would have sounded like Chinese to George Wallace or Bear Bryant.
Travolta is Bobby Long, a former literature professor who's grandiloquently gone to seed on the outskirts of New Orleans, where people pull up a chair and are still there weeks later, swapping stories and singing songs. Accompanying him on the road to ruin is a former teaching assistant, Lawson Pines (Gabriel Macht), who's supposedly writing a novel about Bobby but also appears to be linked to him by one of those past tragedies that often haunt Southern novels. Whatever their bond, they spend most of their time sipping Seagram's from pickle jars and quoting dead authors. Then, 18-year-old Purslane Hominy Will (Scarlett Johansson) arrives.
That's right, Purslane Hominy Will, the literary touches spreading through the name like kudzu. Purslane is the estranged daughter of Lorraine Will, a free-spirited singer whose recent death brings the high school dropout to New Orleans to claim her inheritance, a ramshackle house currently occupied by a pair of gentlemen who have no intention of moving. That the three of them will work things out, even form some semblance of a family, seems foreordained. But we might have enjoyed the negotiation process a lot more if director Shainee Gabel had the slightest feeling for either Southern hospitality or Southern hostility.