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Bubble Boy

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Bubble Boy

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Swoosie Kurtz
Director: Blair Hayes
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 84 Minutes
Release Date: August 2001
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Marley Shelton, John Carroll Lynch, Dave Sheridan, Danny Trejo, Verne Troyer, Brian George, Patrick Cranshaw, Fabio

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Summer is the time to release the most vulgar movies, and that's OK. Really it is, because films are redeemed if they are funny. "American Pie" and even its epigonous sequel, fine. Making out with a pastry doesn't even take the cake in the world of the uncouth, which received new impetus with "There's Something About Mary." Ditto Kevin Smith's New Jersey trilogy, all of which make for good, unwholesome entertainment, even the pretentious "Dogma" thanks to some crackerjack acting especially by Jason Mewes and Chris Rock. But when a movie is both coarse and unfunny, that's just downright embarrassing. When a story makes gratuitous fun of the handicapped--of people who are cruelly exhibited in freak shows, especially if they legitimately have stumps where arms should be or if they are three feet tall and act in a repulsive manner--that's a pity. When a tale depends on racist barbs and paints religious groups as the most loathsome caricatures, that's desperation. That's not all. The topper in Blair Hayes disgraceful creation, "Bubble Boy," is the cop-out conclusion which is a slap in the face--make that an altogether knockout punch--at every unfortunate person who must spend a life suffering with a major disability with little hope of amelioration.

"Bubble Boy," which is fiction but could be based broadly on any number of hapless individuals with illnesses who must spend their lives encased in sterile plastic, focuses on Jimmy Livingston (Jake Gyllenhaal), born with a severe immune deficiency. According to his mom, even a single germ could kill him. Cared for by an overprotective and ferociously religious mother (Swoosie Kurtz) and a mostly silent father (John Carroll Lynch), Jimmy discovers love, or at least lust, when he observes his next-door neighbor, the sexy Chloe (Marley Shelton), provocatively washing her car. After she visits with him a few times, they develop an affection for each other, but when Chloe realizes the impracticality of marriage with Jimmy and announces impending nuptials in Niagara Falls with the idiotic rock singer Mark (Dave Sheridan), Jimmy decides to stop playing it safe. He constructs a portable bubble, sneaks out of the house for the first time in his life, and "Bubble Boy" becomes a road movie. And, oh, the bubble becomes (are you ready for this) a METAPHOR for playing life too safe!!

As the title figure hits the road, getting lifts along the way while chased by his parents, first-time director Blair Hayes cuts loose with Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio's racist and moronic screenplay to introduce us to a spaced-out religious cult, a friendly biker, Slim (Danny Trejo), an obnoxious Dr. Phreak (Verne Troyer) who leads a circus of miserable-looking aberrations, a couple of centenarians named Pappy and Pippy (Patrick Cranshaw) whose taxi is followed by a buzzard, an Asian-American at a strip club who in the most blatantly stereotyped manner shouts "500 dollars! 500 dollars!" as though he were one of those Japanese soldiers in a 1943 B-movie shouting "bonzai! bonzai!" and an East Indian selling ice cream and curry from his truck, who prays over a cow he has run down and killed and who is further humiliated when the poor creature is run over once again splattering its remains on his forehead. Are we laughing yet? If not, there's an anti-Jewish joke you haven't heard. Mrs. Livingston tells it. A howler.

I can understand Jake Gyllenhaal's presence in this movie. He was in "October Sky" but he hasn't yet made his mark. And Blair Hayes is making his debut. But Swoosie Kurtz? One of the finest performers on the off-Broadway stage? For shame! This is the first movie of the year that I've hated. Every minute.

The picture is said to be based on the life of David Vetter and as such is considered an insult by David's mother, Carol Ann Demaret. Ms. Demaret told the Houston Chronicle in a story posted August 15 that David, who suffered a rare genetic deficiency and died in 1984 at the age of 12, had learned of the film only a few weeks before its opening when she saw a report on Entertainment Tonight and would have been OK with it if the movie had a different name but insists that only David had the name of Bubble Boy. "His life was not a comedy," she states about the lad who was the only boy who had lived in a bubble from birth. She believes the film mocks her son's memory. What do you think?

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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