Bubble Boy
BUBBLE BOY. 2001
Director: Blair Hayes

THE BOY IN THE PLASTIC BUBBLE. 1976
Director: Randal Keiser

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



The Boy in the Plastic BubbleBack so few years ago when Jake Gyllenhaal was really not all that well known a young actor, he made one of the greatest horror fantasies of all time, Donnie Darko (2001), immortalizing himself to me from that moment on, & doubtless millions others.

About the same time he accepted the lead in Bubble Boy (2001) before knowing what a great film Donnie Darko turned out to be, but it wasn't a bad choice, it shows him cute as the devil with great comic timing.

The theme had already had the "serious" treatment as a "disease of the week" telefilm, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976), with John Travolta as Tod Lubitch. Travolta was not yet well known 7amp in that decade he was just about as cute as Jake for a later generation. The telefilm was loosely based on the life of Ted DeVita, who at age ten lost his immune system & spent the remaining three years of his life in a sterile enclosed environment.

The Boy in the Plastic BubbleThe fictional character was born without an immune system, which is more like David Vetter, whose life was even shorter than Ted DeVita's & lent the Travolta film some elements for the early part of this life of a fictional bubble boy.

Ted DeVita's & David Vetter's experiences during their brief time in the world weren't conducive to comedy, though no life is completely without humor. The real life Ted rarely left his sealed room, but did once attend a Star Trek convention where for once he felt like everyone else, for other young science fiction fans assuming his bubble suit was a way cool astronaut costume.

The film was surprisingly upbeat, & since neither of the real bubble boys who inspired the story had quite yet dropped dead, it was timely in its hopeful content. Young Lubitch falls for the girl next door (Glynnis O'Connor), dons his astronaut suit to pursue love, & in the end just takes off his suit to be with her, hoping he has built up enough immunities to not die, & leaving us to presume that was indeed the case, even if it wasn't.

Timeless storytelling it ain't. Between the gaudy color pallet & what has become in retrospect whimsical '70s costuming, it's impossible to take the film as seriously as it takes itself, though in its day it was certainly better than the usual Aaron Spelling disease-of-the-week melodrama.

Nevertheless, you can still detect why it was once one of the more lauded telefilms. Travolta, still only on the cusp of becoming a star, shows such range of emotion in the role that he just about sells it as worthy of the tear, & of cheering him on to the improbable climax.


Bubble BoyJake's semi-remake couldn't come up with an original plotline so everyone just went for over-the-top comedy while telling basically the same story.

And since in the interim between the two films treatment of the bubble boy syndrome became reasonably effective with a high rate of cure, the timing was right to treat the formerly tragic condition as a laugh riot.

Jake plays Jimmy Livingston who grows up wayyyy nerdy for lack of socialization with peers, but hey, he looks just like Jake Gyllenhaal, so it's understandable the teen babe who lives next door would have a crush on him. Young Livingston falls hard for her, too, so when she leaves town to get married, he has to do something about it.

Like Tod Lubitch before him, Jimmy dons his protective travel-suit to pursue love, & in the end just takes suit off to be with her, expecting to die, though for "suprise" reasons he doesn't.

Bubble BoyThe first part of the tale shows him in early childhood & as a teen totally okay with being a bubble boy, loving his life in the bubble. He is crazily overprotected by his strange mother (Swoosie Kurtz) without helpful interference in his behalf from his dad (John Carroll Lynch).

As he's never known anything else, he hasn't a clue how loony his mommy-dominated home-education has been, & how different the world is from the cleaned-up version on the Jesus family channel which his mother has led him to believe is the only television channel that exists.

But then startlingly late in his teen life he has his first woody while looking out the window at the girl next door, & the direction of the story immediately changes.

Rather than astronaut suit, he sets out into the world in a hermetically sealed plastic bubble with plastic leg extensions & two rubber gloves sticking out in front for his hands. This creates quite the slapstick image even before he starts getting batted around inside an actual bubble, mashed into by motor vehicles & bouncing safely down the road.

Bubble BoyHis plan is to find his beloved Chloe (Marley Shelton) & for the first time tell her of his great love for her so that she won't marry that annoying & inappropriate Mark (Dave Sheridan). There'll be a coupe visual plays off The Graduate (1967) when he reaches the church, but with a happy ever after ending trumped up.

The real heart of the film is the journey of discovery in a truly strange world. He first meets a taciturn bus ticket vendor (Zach Galifianakis) who is hysterical but borderline normal compared to everyone he meets thereafter, the craziest road journey since Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985), & even more divorced from reality.

There's a bus load of youths in a happy cult. They're all named Todd or Lorraine depending on gender, & they immediately rename the bubble boy Todd.

Eventually these insanely upbeat cultists glom onto Jimmy as their savior & will pursue him throughout the film because the Book of Glen, their cult leader played by Fabio, says they'll all be raised up into their outer space paradise if they release "the round one" from his bubble, refusing to hear him when he yells at them he'll die if they release him.

Bubble BoyHe's befriended by a sweet & endearingly scary motor cycle hood (Danny Trejo), then by Dr. Freak (Verne Troyer) & his tyranized troupe of human oddities, including Chicken Man (Stephen Spinella), the human sasquatch (Matthew McGrory), the rubber woman (Bonnie Morgan), & several others.

There's the over the top casino emcee (Ping Wu) eager to give prizes, the world's oldest asleep-at-the-wheel taxi driver Pappy & his air pilot twin brother Pippy (Patrick Cranshaw), & the especially delightful Pushpop who drives about the countryside in a psychedelic ice cream truck with a Hindu Goddess on the roof, using ice cream to win converts to his worship of the Cow Goddess.

With its ever expanding cast of crazies & eccentrics & outlaws, mostly instantly devoted to the well being of Jimmy on his journey toward love, nothing that happens really needs to be all that logical just as long as it works as slapstick.

If a viewer foolish expects it to be emotionally credible or realistic, then egads what a disappointment. But embrace its abject goofiness & you'll love it. And Jake with his comic book hair-do & naturally ridiculous grin is nonstop fun to watch playing out the absurdist role.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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