84 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, August 17, 2001
Directed by Blair Hayes
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Marley Shelton, Swoosie Kurtz, Danny Trejo, John Carroll Lynch, Verne J. Troyer, Dave Sheridan, Patrick Cranshaw, Mandy Moore, Fabio, Steve Van Wormer
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 25%|
LETTERBOX: NOT NECESSARY
VIDEO RELEASE: 01.15.2002
Gyllenhaal hilarious as immune- deficient 'Bubble Boy' venturing into the world to win the girl he loves
Great casting is absolutely vital to a puckishly impudent comedy like "Bubble Boy" -- the story of a happy-go-lucky, immune-deficient geek who zip-locks himself into a homemade portable orb to travel cross-country and stop the wedding of the girl he loves.
Put somebody like Adam Sandler, David Spade or Seth Green in the title role, and this childlike weirdo with matted hair and a whiney voice would lose all his sweet qualities and quickly become intolerably abrasive.
But Jake Gyllenhaal, who made such a lasting impression as future NASA scientist Homer Hickman in the little-seen coming of age picture "October Sky" -- is absolutely brilliant in the role. His exaggerated wide-eyed naivete has just enough pepper to make you laugh with him, not at him. His hyperactive enthusiasm at taking his first steps into the world ("Dog poo! Aweeeesome!") is so real that you don't just laugh, you smile. He makes the character three-dimensional and 100-percent lovable, but in an ever-so-slightly ironic way that requires a ton of talent to maintain.
Gyllenhaal's talent may not be fully appreciated in the course of the movie however, because "Bubble Boy" is 84 minutes of mirthfully unfettered lunacy that leaves no joke unturned and therefore no time to admire the nuances of an ingenious comic performance.
Born with a busted immune system, Jimmy Livingston (Gyllenhaal) has lived his whole life inside a hermetically-sealed playpen of a bedroom, watched over incessantly by his paranoid, overprotective, arch-conservative mother (the fantastic Swoosie Kurtz) who is determined to keep him "safe from that evil, filthy world" outside his window. When she reads him fairytales as a child, they end with a Jimmy-specific twist: "...and Rapunzel left her plastic bubble and died!"
In his teens, Jimmy becomes smitten with Chloe (angelic Marley Shelton), who a few year later announces her engagement to a neighborhood slimeball sporting an ear cuff and a mullet. Jimmy gets jealous and hits the road on a mission to stop the wedding -- encased in a bubble of his own design but otherwise ill-prepared for coping with the real world his mommy never told him about.
Screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio don't waste a single opportunity for a goofball giggles, pairing Jimmy up on his trip with a "Partridge Family" busload of halcyon cultists (who worship Fabio); a surly, motorbiking Mexican ex-con (the hilarious Danny Trejo, who usually plays heavies); and a freight train full of sideshow freaks enslaved by a foul-mouthed midget (Verne Troyer, "Austin Powers 2").
Director Blair Hayes shoehorns so many surplus laughs into every one of these episodes (e.g., the freakshow's Siamese twins are half drag queen, half Hasidic Jew) that I might go to the movie again just to see what I missed.
But because "Bubble Boy" is so focused on the comedy, Hayes stumbles sometimes when simply trying to move -- or should I say lurch -- the plot forward. The cultists claiming Bubble Boy as their messiah is a lame ploy and whenever Hayes cuts to Chloe and the fiancé at Niagara Falls, it feels like a listless, strictly obligatory procedure and the movie becomes momentarily but vacuously joke-less.
Also, I have a personal pet peeve about these she's-gonna-marry-the-wrong-guy movies. Such plots invariably makes the girl look witless (and therefore less desirable) for almost marrying some obviously insufferable pig. Couldn't Mr. Wrong be an OK guy who just isn't Mr. Right? Or would that require shades of subtlety and depth of character beyond the meager abilities of Hollywood comedy writers?
While I'm at it, I could have done without the excessively sinewy scene involving a road-killed cow -- yeuck!
OK, end rant.
Such complaints aside, "Bubble Boy" is not only full-court-press hilarious but truly well-acted and skillfully structured as well. Hayes didn't just slap this movie together as a string of unrelated gags like such overzealous comedies so often are ("American Pie 2," "Rush Hour 2," "Scary Movie 2"). Even the soundtrack of pop ditties (Don Ho's "Tiny Bubbles," the Beach Boy's "Wouldn't It Be Nice," Blink 182's "Dammit (Growing Up)") correlates directly to the story, as opposed to being a technique to tie in CD sales.
Even with its shortcomings, "Bubble Boy" is still the best off-the-wall comedy of the summer.