20 August 2014 | What_A_Shame
Bob Roberts: Underrated Classic.
Okay, make no mistake: Bob Roberts is definitely not the most subtle film ever made. It's not so much a veiled attack on the American right-wing as it is an all singing, all dancing celluloid spit in the Republican party's face. It's also as paranoid as a junkie, and almost proudly one sided, which might be why it has slipped into relative obscurity - it's a film that could be very easily dismissed as a piece of left-wing propaganda, directed by and starring Tim Robbins, an outspokenly leftist actor.
But, Bob Roberts is a film that deserves a lot more attention than it receives, largely because unlike a lot of political comedies, it's actually funny.
Bob Roberts is a mockumentary about a right wing politician/folk singer named (unsurprisingly) Bob Roberts. Roberts is a kind of anti Bob Dylan, whose modus operandi is to emulate the spirit of the folk singing radicals and then deliberately turn their message on its head - he sings songs about enforcing the death penalty on drug dealers, and the positives of investing in the stock market. Dylan provides such an obvious touchstone for the character that it's arguable the whole film is as much a spoof of the Dylan documentary Don't Look Back as it is a political satire. The songs are a good example of what makes this film work. Sure, they're unashamedly political and barbed - they're the kind of spoofs that you'll now find dime a dozen on youtube - but they are so painfully earnest and straightfaced that they're kind of hypnotic. In Bob Roberts, Robbins has created a character who absolutely believes the terrible and terrifying things he sings about, and he plays the part with a wide eyed enthusiasm that makes you laugh, but in that oh so unsettling "I'm genuinely disturbed by this" kind of way. The jokes are totally underplayed, save for an out of place 'before they were famous' Jack Black cameo appearance. He's the only actor who inhabits his role as if it's meant to be funny, all but giving the audience a big fourth wall breaking wink. Everyone else, however, lets the humour come naturally from the insanity of what they're saying: they don't gurn to the camera. From Alan Rickman's performance as the shadowy Big Business agent to Gore Vidal as Bob Roberts' running mate, the rest of the cast play the thing totally straight-faced.
Sure, the movie's pretty preachy, but it never becomes boring: at a lean 102 minutes, it's a freight train of a film, spitting out characters, situations, and genuinely thrilling plot twists.
Best of all is the film's ending, which is as cutting as the punchline to a sick joke. There's no messing around to this one. The conclusion socks you in the guts then carries on its way, whistling Bob Roberts' "Drugs Stink" as it goes.