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Bubble Boy
Directed by: Blair Hayes (II)
Rated: Rated PG-13 for language and crude sexual humor.
Running Time: 0 minutes
If only filmmakers didn’t need to worry about finding an audience for their films, they’d be able to have a lot more fun. Poor old Bubble Boy is one that falls between the cracks of easy categorization. It’s a comedy. A romantic comedy. And a farce. A wicked satire. In fact, it’s a surreal, allegorical, wickedly farcical, romantic-comedy social-satire. Is there an audience for that?

This film is bound to encounter folks who aren’t expecting its wonderfully creative offbeat worldview – most kids won’t understand it, people who want a gross out comedy won’t find it nearly gross enough, those who want a romantic comedy might find the outrageousness of Bubble Boy off-putting, and those who want heavy-duty social commentary may be put off by its silliness and sappiness.

It might not find an audience, but mark me down as a fan of this off-the-wall allegorical tale of Jimmy Livingston ( Jake Gyllenhaal ), a young man who has spent his entire life in a plastic bubble after being born without a functioning immune system. Presided over by a domineering mother ( Swoosie Kurtz ) who is well-meaning but bitterly opposed to Jimmy having contact with the outside world, Jimmy doesn’t leave his plastic-shrouded home until Chloe ( Marley Shelton ), the beautiful girl next door, wins his heart, but takes off to Niagara Falls to marry someone else. When Jimmy realizes his mistake in not telling Chloe his true feelings, he departs his sterile suburban home in the U.S. Southwest to try to stop the wedding, set for three days hence.

Jimmy’s oddball road-trip is packed with wacky characters and weird events that will leave some viewers cold, while tickling the funny-bone of others. There’s a biker gang, a busload of blank-smiling cult members, the escaped cast of a freak show, and a couple of exceedingly elderly chauffeurs. The symbolism will be obvious to anyone who’s open to it – this is a movie about breaking free, of rejecting narrow-mindedness and conformity, and of following your heart.

Bubble Boy has a goofy and over-the-top way of making its point, but as long as you’re not stuck on it fitting a particular mould, it’s a fun – and meaningful – ride. Gyllenhaal has the wide-eyed innocence to pull off the unusual role of a boy perpetually in a bubble, Shelton is an ideal sweet dream girl, and Kurtz nearly perfectly walks the line between over-protective mom and obsessive lunatic (in a particularly priceless moment near the film’s end, she reprises Dustin Hoffman ’s role in The !--1877 Graduate , standing at a window looking in on Chloe’s wedding scene, pounding the glass and screaming in desperation).

There are a few scenes that stagger badly, neither helping make the film’s point, nor generating much laughter, but most of the movie bounces along swimmingly – generating laughs while also skewering narrow-minded conservatism, cult-followers, and folks who aren’t prepared to let themselves – and others – live their lives to the fullest. It might not find an audience, but it’s a film that deserves one.

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