Although the ’70s produced a seemingly endless stream of dramas about mixed-up kids roaming the country and getting into trouble, many of these films felt as aimless as their protagonists. Aloha, Bobby and Rose is an exception. Atmospheric, credible, deliberate, and sensitive, the picture is a sharply observed story about a young man destined for difficulty and the damaged single mother who’s vulnerable enough to get drawn into his world.
Bobby (Paul Le Mat) is a wiseass auto mechanic who bluffs his way through a pool game with tough East-LA Latinos until they discover he doesn’t have the cash to pay off his gambling debts. They give him a beating and promise there’s more to come if he doesn’t return the following evening with money. Bobby hustles friends for the bread but can’t put it together, then gets distracted when pretty young Rose (Dianne Hull) brings her car into the shop where he works. Characteristically ignoring his responsibilities, Bobby spends the day and evening courting Rose when he should be assembling a bankroll, and then he really gets into trouble—when Bobby pretends to stick up a convenience-store clerk, ostensibly for Rose’s amusement, the previously unseen store owner emerges with a gun and fires. The gunshot kills the clerk, and Rose instinctively whacks the owner on the head.
Bobby and Rose flee, afraid they won’t be able to prove their innocence. Demonstrating that she’s cut from the same cloth as Bobby, Rose skips out on her kid to run away with Bobby, and during their travels they meet unruly Texans Buford (Tim McIntire) and Donna Sue (Leigh French); the couples spend a wild night in Tijuana before Bobby and Rose decide to retrieve her son from LA. This being an angst-ridden ’70s drama, suffice to say things don’t go according to plan.
As in his debut picture, 1971’s Dusty and Sweets McGee, writer-director Floyd Mutrux swaths this movie in rich atmosphere. Every grimy wall and every banged-up prop feels right, and a long sequence of Bobby and Rose cruising the Sunset Strip—zooming past billboards for iconic ’70s rock albums—creates a vivid sense of a lost time. Cinematographer William A. Fraker, an old-school Hollywood pro best known for slick studio films, lends the same palpable realism to this picture than he gave to Dusty and Sweets McGee; his soft filters simulate the steamy haze that envelops Southern California on hot days. The soundtrack is terrific, annotating the heroes’ sad journey with tunes by Bob Dylan, Elton John, and various Motown artists (Little Eva’s “Locomotion” is used to ironic effect during a key scene).
As for the performances, they’re naturalistic and vivid. Le Mat works the James Dean-wannabe groove typical to this type of picture, adeptly illustrating Bobby’s charms and shortcomings; Hull is frayed as a girl not yet ready for adult obligations; and McIntire is a force of nature as Buford, a crazy man who dances on tables, urinates in cars, and talks a great line of bullshit. Yet, even with all of these virtues, the beauty of Aloha, Bobby and Rose is that it’s so focused: Instead of trying to make a grand statement, it’s nothing more than a sensitively crafted drama filled with insights about the restless hearts of the young.
Aloha, Bobby and Rose: RIGHT ON