“Bubble Boy” stands out in comedy-deficient summer

· Sep 5, 2001 Tweet

Grade:A/B

After three agonizing months of lackluster movies without a single laugh-out-loud comedy to show for it, finally a winner emerges. “Bubble Boy” is a surprising delight that more than makes up for the likes of “Scary Movie 2” and “Evolution” — the summer’s other alleged “comedies.”

The tale of a boy-turned-freak-show because of an immune deficiency, “Bubble Boy” has all the elements of a classic cross-country-journey comedy, but with originality — something last week’s “Rat Race” clearly lacks. “Bubble Boy” is everything “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” was, and more — freaks and all.

As Jimmy Livingston, Jake Gyllenhaal (“October Sky”) narrates from the time Jimmy was born without immunities, until present time as he slowly outgrows his sheltered life. Much like the “bubble guinea” he keeps in one of those cruel, dizzying rollerballs, Jimmy lives in a maze of sanitized plastic rubber. Tubes run throughout his home, allowing him to maneuver his way to a separate, domed eating area where his mom prepares germ-free food. A pair of rubber arms that extend into and out of his dome are his only physical contact with the real world — besides his window.

For years, Jimmy looks out his window, only to be taunted by the neighborhood kids who dub him “Bubble Boy.” As in any classic tale of a sheltered monster, Jimmy catches a rare glimpse of the neighboring beauty, Chloe (Marley Shelton, “Valentine”) and everything changes. Suddenly the one channel of television he is allowed to watch and the erector sets he spends his days tinkering away at can’t keep Jimmy’s attention. Before we know it, Jimmy hits puberty — something his in-home teacher/mom has little to say about.

After finally meeting, Chloe and Jimmy spend years flirting through the plastic shelter, only for Chloe to give up in frustration with the boy she can never touch. As Chloe takes off for New York to marry a rock-star loser, Jimmy finally decides it is time to assert his love. He erects a sort of bubble-camper — a germ-free suit that he can take on the road to chase her down.

The bubble itself may be the film’s greatest asset and funniest joke. The implications of traveling by foot, bus, motorcycle, scooter and plane across the country in a bubble suit are quite comical.

Following in the impressive footsteps of “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” the innocent but quirky character embarks on a journey littered with hitchers nearly as colorful as himself, seeking his love. Pee Wee loved a bike, Jimmy loves a girl. No one ever told Pee Wee “It’s all right to love your bike … but you shouldn’t love your bike,” so “Pee Wee” had a creepy undertone to which “Bubble Boy” alludes. “Bubble Boy” fares well nonetheless.

As “Bubble Boy” bounces from bus stop to bus stop and shoddy town to shoddy town, Jimmy encounters a grab bag of freaks and weirdoes so bizarre they would put Paul Reubens to shame. A train full of carnies from Dr. Freak’s circus show includes such notables as Howard Stern’s in-house dwarf, Beetlejuice; a flipper boy; and ringleader Verne Troyer in his most memorable role since Mini-Me.
Jimmy catches a brief ride in an Indian’s ice cream/curry truck before he accidentally hits a cow and is doomed to be “karmically bitch-slapped by the four arms of Vishnu” for the remainder of his life.

A busload of “happy, shiny” cult members following their leader Fabio (another perfect casting decision) in pursuit of salvation offers a brief hitch, and a Hell’s Angels member named Chapa lends his wheels of steel.

Like “Pee Wee” before it, “Bubble Boy” offers adventure and risk-taking in the name of love, but boils down to a fun, cross-country freak show and laugh riot. Gyllenhaal is as lovable as a boy in a bubble suit can be — even more than John Travolta was in his turn as the bubble kid — and he shows signs of the na-ve idiot humor that Brendan Fraser perfected with roles in “Airheads” and “Blast From the Past.” Shout-outs to television’s “Land of the Lost” and pooty-tang add to the fun and “Bubble Boy” even has its own “And then?” moment for anyone who saw the little humor in this year’s “Dude, Where’s My Car?”
In the same week that comic legend Woody Allen releases his annual project, it seems unfair to put “Bubble Boy” in the same comedic sphere. However, “Bubble Boy” will live for years, probably as a cult favorite. It deserves all the attention it can garner.

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This article was published Sep 5, 2001 at 12:00 am and last updated Sep 5, 2001 at 12:00 am

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