2001, PG-13, 84 min. Directed by Blair Hayes. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Swoosie Kurtz, Marley Shelton, Danny Trejo, John Carroll Lynch, Verne Troyer, Dave Sheridan, Brian George, Patrick Crenshaw.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Aug. 24, 2001
It's a shame if the controversy surrounding Bubble Boy distracts people from what a smart, subversive, and genuinely good-hearted film it is. Protest groups have asked Disney to yank the picture -- about a boy born without immunities -- arguing it trivializes the disease. I'd argue the film treats IMD with nothing but respect; in fact, it's probably the only thing this brilliantly, wickedly funny film respects. Born without the ability to stave off germs, Jimmy Livingston has lived in his sanitized, solitary bubble since age 4. He's physically and psychically bubble-wrapped; his Donna Reed cum Joseph Stalin mom (Kurtz) bakes then disinfects crucifix cookies for a teenage Jimmy (Gyllenhaal) while instructing him how to get rid of his first erection by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (more than a few theories on that one). Jimmy's naïve, insular world is exploded when Chloe (Shelton), the girl next door (or: “that slut!” as his mother spits repeatedly), starts visiting. First comes friendship, next comes a funny feeling for both of them -- and yes, much patriotic recitation for Jimmy -- but then Chloe runs off to Niagara Falls to marry a schlep. What's a lovesick bubble boy to do? Build a portable bubble and chase his girl across the continental United States, that's what! And that's when the inspired madness of Bubble Boy truly kicks in. On his journey, Jimmy meets a band of circus performers; a Hindu traveling salesman hawking ice cream and curry; a cult of god-crazed kids all named either Lorraine or Todd. There's a definite John Waters and Tim Burton influence: First-time feature director Blair Hayes' visual style is just as thrilling as those elder statesmen of the carnival aesthetic, and at its core, Bubble Boy pushes for the embracing of people whom most would call “freaks” (and Waters and Burton would probably call “drinking buddies”). I'm not sure if 13-year-olds will get the frequent and scathing satire in the piece, but they will get the real message: You're just as big a freak as I am. And that's just how it should be.