Probably the greatest hurdle Bubble Boy faces is convincing the general public that it is not as bad as its own promotional trailers make it out to be. Instead of the goofy slapstick and crude toilet humor one would expect from a movie aimed at the mallrat audience, Bubble Boy (Touchstone Picture) delivers cruelly sharp roasts that target nearly every color and creed.
The Livingston family exemplifies the proud, Reagan-era, Christian-Coalition family of the mid-80s. When doctors diagnose newborn Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal) with a complete lack of immunities – a medical condition whose specifics the movie casually ignores – his overbearing mother (Swoosie Kurtz) grabs the chance to educate Jim as she sees fit while protecting him from what she sees to be the sinful world outside.
Jim’s perfect world springs a leak with the arrival of Chloe (Marley Shelton), the nymphet next door who strikes up a friendship with her neighborhood’s freak. Soon enough, the two are sharing intimate moments, albeit ones shared through the walls of a clear plastic bubble.
The impossibility of the couple’s physical connection combined with burgeoning hormonal urges leads Chloe into the arms of the mullet-sporting Mark (Dave Sheridan). It isn’t long until she’s letting Jim know that she and Jake are getting married in Niagara Falls, an inexplicably long way from their neighborhood and families in Pasadena, Calif.
Thus begins Jim’s odyssey across the continental United States. He somehow passes through most of the Midwest without incident, spending an inordinate amount of time in Las Vegas. Along the way, but mostly before he even makes it to Vegas, Jim meets a tough-talking Latino biker, a Hindu ice cream man, a busload of cult members led by Fabio and a train car full of freaks.
While this mixed bag of sickeningly colorful characters could easily produce the mind-numbingly dull and ill-paced antics of a movie such as Rat Race, the film raises the bar with its fair-handed offensiveness. Instead, Bubble Boy produces an unlikely love story along the lines of Something About Mary.
Rather than relying on the time-tested success of a madcap road trip theme, Bubble Boy focuses instead on clever characterization and unexpectedly hilarious scenarios. Even in its perfunctory happy ending, Bubble Boy gives us hope that, though the parents of the real-life bubble boy may be seething, the rest of us can still laugh at the misfortunes of ourselves and – better yet – everyone else.
Bubble Boy is in theaters now