By now, it's probably fair to say that most people have heard about the controversy surrounding the release of "Bubble Boy," a dippy comedy about a young man forced to live in a plastic bubble due to an immune deficiency. One mother of a son with this real-life disease, who passed away several years ago, is boycotting the picture, believing it to make fun of people with this rare disorder. Her stance of the subject is rather ill-advised, exposing her to not even have taken the time to view the movie on her own. In actuality, the film paints a positive, caring portrait of the disorder, and never makes fun of the character in any way. That said, "Bubble Boy" remains a very bad motion picture for completely separate reasons, and does prove offensive to Jews and Muslims, who are looked upon as nothing but money-grubbing, religion-crazed loons.
Born with a debilitating disease in which coming into contact with any sort of germ could prove fatal to his immune system, 16-year-old Jimmy Livingston (Jake Gyllenhaal) has grown up living in a large, plastic-shrouded environment. With a crazed, if loving, mother (Swoosie Kurtz) who finishes off every bedtime fairy tale with the main character journeying out into the world, only to get sick and die, Jimmy faces a life filled with loneliness. Things make a turn for the better when he becomes best friends with Chloe (Marley Shelton), the sweet girl from next door. It is clear that Jimmy and Chloe love each other, but with her unsure if a relationship with him could work, Chloe announces that she is to be married at Niagara Falls to scumbag Mark (Dave Sheridan) in three days. Desperate not to lose her, Jimmy quickly builds a plastic bubble for himself and sets off on a cross-country trek to profess his love to Chloe before she takes the plunge.
An alternately dark and upbeat comedy, "Bubble Boy" is rarely funny, mildly entertaining in a very morbid sort of way, and almost always terrible. Directed without spark by novice filmmaker Blair Hayes, the film is not only uneven, but also astoundingly prejudiced towards difference races, religious beliefs, and cultures. The title character, of which the outroar has stemmed from, is, ironically, the one major figure who is characterized in a fair, gentle light.
The third road movie to come out in the last seven days (a week after "Rat Race" and on the same day as "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back"), "Bubble Boy" contributes every cliche that is vital to the fast-wearing genre, with Jimmy meeting an array of eccentrics on the open road, from a Hindu ice cream/curry truck driver (Brian George), to a train full of circus freaks (including oddball musician Beetlejuice), to a straight-talking biker (Danny Trejo), to a bus filled with demented, smiling cultists. All of it is meant to be both amusing and humorous, but it is neither, thanks to the dopey, overstuffed screenplay by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio. The picture doesn't know the first thing about setting up jokes, although most of them are far too lame to even have worked coming from the Farrelly Brothers (1998's "There's Something About Mary").
Jake Gyllenhaal, who oozed charisma in 1999's "October Sky," is innocently likable as the bubble boy. Since the film is seen through his eyes, and most of what surrounds him is deplorable on any number of levels, at least Gyllenhaal comes through as a hero worth rooting for. Marley Shelton (2001's "Valentine"), as the girl Jimmy can't live without, is an attractive performer too promising to be wasting her time in such throwaway roles. And Swoosie Kurtz (2001's "Get Over It") has a field day as Jimmy's frighteningly "out-there" mom, who bakes him cross-shaped cookies with the word, "Jesus," stamped on them. Finally, Verne Troyer (who played Mini-Me in 1999's "Austin Powers 2") is the only actor who garners any laughs from the proceedings, as a sexually potent midget who is mistaken as a young child by Jimmy's parents.
"Bubble Boy" may pass itself off as a harmless piece of fantasy fluff, but it carries an undercurrent of nastiness that doesn't quite sit well with the more romantic parts of the story. The picture suffers from a split-personality, with much of the short 84-minute running time devoted to unnecessary badgering of potential audience members. And while Gyllenhaal and Shelton are good together, the film unfortunately keeps them apart for nearly an hour, ruining any chances for a winning love story. "Bubble Boy" is ineffective, ugly moviemaking--the perfect DOA dud to finish the summer off with.
©2001 by Dustin Putman