Guilty Pleasures: Bubble Boy
By Felix Quinonez Jr.
March 5, 2013
Let’s face it, whether we’re talking about movies, music, books or whatever, we all think we have great taste. Because we only see things from our own perspectives, we usually use our personal tastes as a way to judge quality.
But even so, we all have our guilty pleasures. I’m talking about that song you stop humming when someone walks into the room. Or maybe it’s that movie you claim your significant other dragged you to. Whatever the case, we all have guilty pleasures and that includes me, of course. With this column I’m going to try to encourage people to stop being embarrassed for liking things they normally wouldn’t or that aren’t considered cool. I’m going to do this by celebrating movies that are my personal guilty pleasures.
It’s always fun to look at the early stages of actors’ careers. No matter how “serious” their work eventually becomes, they had to come up like everybody else. This means that at one point they couldn’t be as picky about the roles they took. Although he would later star in blockbusters like The Day After Tomorrow and critically acclaimed movies like The Good Girl, in 2001 Jake Gyllenhaal starred in a movie that bombed on both levels. That movie, directed by Blair Hayes, is Bubble Boy.
Even with a $13 million budget, Bubble Boy was a commercial flop and its 29% fresh rating at Rottentomatoes.com shows it didn’t fare much better with the critics. Apparently Bubble Boy was inspired by the 1976 movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.
Bubble Boy tells the story of Jimmy Livingston (Gyllenhaal), a teenager who suffers from an immune system deficiency. Because of his condition, Jimmy can’t come in direct contact with the outside world. The only solution is for him to live his life encased in a protective bubble. Living under such a protective environment, the only person he has regular contact with is his overprotective, slightly crazy, religious mother (Swoosie Kurtz).
Even with such a limited view on the world - shaped almost entirely by his mother - Jimmy is a happy kid. In fact it is not until he meets his next door neighbor, Chloe (Marley Shelton), that he realizes how much he is missing out on. Chloe soon begins to visit Jimmy regularly and the two become friends. But it doesn’t take long for Jimmy - who feels the two have a connection - to fall in love with Chloe.
Things are fine for a while as get to know each other and spend more and more time together. But one day Chloe tells Jimmy that she is going to Niagara Falls to marry her boyfriend. This upsets Jimmy and the two end things on bad terms. After she leaves, Jimmy cools off and opens the present Chloe had brought for him. It is a snow globe that has the words “I love you” in it. Jimmy - regretting his earlier actions - realizes that Chloe has feelings for him, too. With this new knowledge he makes a portable “bubble suit” - yeah, it’s that easy - and sets out on a journey to win Chloe’s heart.
Once Jimmy’s adventure begins is when the movie really takes off. At its heart, Bubble Boy is a fish out of water story. Jimmy ventures out into the world he’s feared all his life in the name of love. Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a movie if the trip went smoothly and there are plenty of problems for Jimmy to face and overcome. Along the way he comes across all sorts of weird and crazy people.
Jimmy is first picked up by a cult that he initially offends by referring to them as a cult. When this happens they ditch Jimmy in the middle of the desert. But later they think Jimmy is their messiah and go searching for him. Because of misunderstandings like this - and his lack of funds - Jimmy keeps hitching rides with random people who join in his adventure and add fun to the story. These people include; a biker named Slim (Danny Trejo) a circus freak group, an Indian man named Pappy and his brother Pippy (Patrick Cranshaw) and others.
All of these people serve their purpose to advance the story a little too neatly but they also each represent a different group for the movie to lampoon. You have to give the movie some credit for some of the stunts they pull off and lines the characters say. How much you enjoy this depends on how sensitive a viewer you are. It’s true that some of the jokes might be labeled “politically incorrect” but they are about as shocking as you’d expect from a PG-13 movie.
Although Gyllenhaal’s performance didn’t receive any critical acclaim and some even saw it as a step backwards in his career, he still manages to give the movie some heart. More important, he gives the character plenty of energy and you get the sense that he is at least enjoying the role.
The movie might not be high art or even an original comedy but it is certainly fun. It manages to balance the cartoony and over the top humor with heartfelt moments. If you have an hour and a half to kill, you could do worse than Bubble Boy.