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Bubble Boy

  bubble boy
Swoosie Kurtz polishes Jake Gyllenhaal's biosphere.

© 2001, Touchstone
All Rights Reserved

Stationed outside of the theater where I saw "Bubble Boy" (IMDb listing) was a small faction of protesters. Infuriated over the portrayal of a very real life affliction called Primary Immunodeficiency (which forces the afflicted to live in a protective bubble to keep the germs out), the demonstrators screamed for a boycott of this new film.

I couldn't agree more. But not for the careless poking at a desperately heartbreaking condition, but more for the endless dead-air gags, the witless stereotyping, and the hilariously wrongheaded direction—which ends up being the one component in the picture that actually is funny.

"Bubble Boy" stars Jake Gyllenhaal ("October Sky") as Jimmy, a young man born without immunities and forced to grow up inside a gigantic plastic bubble. Despite the objections of his meddling mother (Swoosie Kurtz), Jimmy befriends a neighbor named Chloe (Marley Shelton, "Sugar and Spice"). The two form a strong bond, but with the limitations of Jimmy's world, Chloe soon falls in love with a loser and jets off to Niagara Falls to marry him. Jimmy, not happy to let her go, creates a portable bubble suit for himself and sets off across the country to find her and stop the wedding.

"Bubble Boy" feels like a film your local improvisational comedy troupe would make if given the chance to prove just how funny they can be. It's so self-complacent and ceaselessly unfunny that you cannot help to contemplate just how this script got past the development stage. "Bubble Boy" is the sort of film that when it cannot figure out how to proceed without diving for a joke, it immediately goes to the warehouse of stereotypes and bodily function humor to get it through the rough spots (like any true dramatic moments). And when all is said and done, the film almost literally stands up and bows as if it has accomplished some cinematic work of art. No need to applause, since "Bubble Boy" will leave you cold and wishing you've spent your money elsewhere.

But why is "Bubble Boy" just so unpleasant? Because the film believes that it's great. What kind of a broad comedy is this when it features a boy in a bubble mud wrestling with two busty babes, yet also asks the audience to sympathize with his tragically real life affliction? A poor one, if you ask me.

I can sympathize with the parents of the Primary Immunodeficiency children who've organized. Disney should've exercised better judgment than to greenlight a comedy about a terminal disease. Yet "Bubble Boy" prides itself on breaking taboos. Everybody gets a chance to be made fun of in "Bubble Boy": Christians, Eastern Indians, Mexicans, senior citizens, Asians, literal circus freaks, get where I'm going with this. It's fruitless to get too upset over the stereotyping and general nonsense of the film since "Bubble Boy" is such a monstrosity of a picture. It plays at such a silly level, yet is so devoid of heart and laughs that to worry about the implications of its vile characterizations would be wasting precious energy. The filmmakers know they're making a bad film. It shows clearly in every frame of this picture. That should be satisfaction enough to those turning purple with anger over this foolish film.

As the title character, Jake Gyllenhaal does an admirable job trying to keep his performance from getting swallowed by all the desperation that winds through the rest of the film. Gyllenhaal plays Jim not as a misinformed fool, but a caring soul burdened with limited knowledge and abilities. "Bubble Boy" is a mess, yet Gyllenhaal makes it all a tiny bit more agreeable with his charm. Also of note is Marley Shelton who, given that she's all but cut out of the final picture, makes a strong impression with her empathetic performance and her glowing good looks. While the film tires itself out trying to find its heart, the production needed to go no further than Shelton and Gyllenhaal to find the soul of the movie. But the two get in the way of the Fabio and Vern "Mini-Me" Troyer cameos, so of course they had to go.

Running a scant 85 minutes, "Bubble Boy" has got the stitchings of tampering all over it. Whether it is a bizarre bleeping of a slang term for female genitalia, or the breathless running around from place to place, leaving huge story gaps in its wake, "Bubble Boy" has all the evidence left behind that it was once a more epic film both in scope and in comic resourcefulness. Sadly, what remains now is a shambles of a movie. Director Blair Hayes (not surprisingly, his debut film) wants to cover the gaps up with wackiness, but the slices of missing story add up, leaving "Bubble Boy" largely disorienting.

By protesting "Bubble Boy," I fear the angry masses will give this rubbish too much power. Picketing always leads to curiosity, and the less said about "Bubble Boy" the better. Trust me, if we all turned our backs on this film, it will go away.

Filmfodder Grade: D-

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