The Jeopardy question would be: What do Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Kennedy social insider Gore Vidal, James Spader, John Cusack, Giancarlo Esposito, Helen Hunt, Ray Wise, Brian Murray, Alan Rickman, Peter Gallagher, Rebecca Jenkins, Harry J. Lennix, and Merrilee Dale have in common? Jeopardy answer: What is the film Bob Roberts? Ding, ding, ding-that’s correct. And that’s not even listing all of the first billed stars. Talk about six degrees of separation. Tim Robbins assembles all of Hollywood for his directorial debut, Bob Roberts, and I’m sure a link to Kevin Bacon can be found somewhere in there.
The film Bob Roberts, also written by Tim Robbins, asks the question-what would happen if a charismatic man ran for political office with all the charm of the boy next door, only to steal from the poor and proclaim personal gain at all costs? Though this is a scenario we’ve seen several times in our political history, the film, made in 1992, takes place during Bush Sr.’s administration and rings prophetically true of the last 14 years’ events.
Tim Robbins plays the title character Bob Roberts, a popular folk singer/songwriter who decides to run for Pennsylvania’s senatorial seat; the film is a pseudo documentary of his campaign run. Robbins plays the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood character perfectly, with slicked back hair and smooth as butter smiles. He has a willful distaste for anyone not like him, but yet seems sincere in a childlike way-as though he means what he’s saying but doesn’t understand it. True to form, the public eats up his shtick believing his baby face appearance more than what he says. When he sings about tying up and killing all the lazy people without jobs the crowds respond as though he were singing Puff The Magic Dragon.
Most amusing are the tongue-in-cheek parallels Robbins makes between Bob Roberts and Bob Dylan. Bob Roberts comes to fame off his debut album The Free Wheelin’ Bob Roberts and his follow up album Times Are Changing Back is an obvious reference to Bob Dylan’s hit The Times They Are A’ Changin’. In one of Bob Roberts’ music videos, he is shown standing in an alley flipping through cue cards containing the song lyrics, this was done in Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back for the song Subterranean Homesick Blues. Bob Roberts seems to be Tim Robbins’ archetype antithesis to Bob Dylan.
Playing Bob Roberts’ running mate, Senator Brickley Paiste, is Gore Vidal. Brickley Paiste is the polar opposite of Bob Roberts, he is a man who cares about the poor, wants to build up the community, and earnestly wants to see change. But a man with a brain is no match for a man with a gimmick and team Roberts is determined to take him down.
The man in the shadows is journalist Bugs Raplin, played by Giancarlo Esposito. Raplin is the lone man against the machine; he knows there is something off about Roberts and digs through the slush to find it.
You can’t have an election race without the media and Susan Sarandon, James Spader, Helen Hunt, and Peter Gallagher each give stellar cameo’s as talking head mainstream news correspondents. Balancing this is John Cusack’s performance as the host of the low-budget “liberal” show The Cutting Edge Live.
Bob Roberts is a mockumentary piece of film making at its best-clever, funny, and true to Robbins’ style it doesn’t take anything too seriously; satirizing both the right and the left.
If you liked This Is Spinal Tap you’ll probably enjoy this one. If nothing else watch it for all the talented actors that appear in the film.