I fell madly in love with Jake Gyllenhaal in October Sky, a beautiful movie about following your bliss in which he demonstrated a talent for touching a deep core of genuine emotion that few actors of his tender years can manage. Plus, he’s cute as hell. Sure, I felt like a dirty old lady for drooling over a teenaged boy… but now, heh heh, he’s legal, and I can drool away with impunity.
He’s not making it easy for me, though.
The summer of 2001 may well go down in the annals of Hollywood as the worst ever, and Bubble Boy is the capper, the finale, the rancid icing on a rotten cake. If this summer’s flicks seemed to consist almost entirely of scum scraped off the bottom of the cinematic barrel, then Bubble Boy proves that that barrel actually has no bottom and is merely a doorway into a hellish void, an abyss of Bad Movies that is eternal and infinite.
This could be the most offensive movie ever made, not because there probably aren’t other movies with the potential to more deeply offend someone somewhere but because Bubble Boy seems calculated to deliberately offend not only every character onscreen but everyone in the audience as well. And I’m not even talking about the silly protest the mother of the “real” bubble boy is launching — she’s asking moviegoers to boycott Bubble Boy because it makes fun of people with immune deficiencies. It doesn’t, actually — teenager Jimmy Livingston (Gyllenhaal) is just a sweet, overprotected dork of a boy, and the only character onscreen who might have the capability of generating any sympathy from the audience, if only we weren’t so busy being appalled by everything going around him.
So feel free to boycott Bubble Boy on general principle.
This film — written by nobodies Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio and directed by nobody Blair Hayes, and here’s hoping they never work again — is abhorrent because of what it does to Jimmy as a person, regardless of his affliction. Except for the absurd bouncing around in his portable bubble, this film could have been the same insulting garbage if he’d merely been a kid whose religious-zealot mom (Swoosie Kurtz: Liar Liar) had just kept him in the house his whole life, a necessary defense tactic because, as we all know, the world is full of whores waiting to corrupt her innocent baby the moment he steps outside.
But Jimmy is in a bubble, and the whore manages to get to him anyway: girl- next- door Chloe (Marley Shelton: Valentine, Pleasantville) befriends Jimmy, and being the only female apart from his mother that he’s ever seen, he falls in adolescent puppy love with her. Because this is a “comedy,” the virginal Chloe can dress like a whore and still tell her mullethead jerk of a boyfriend (Dave Sheridan) that she wants to wait until she’s married to have sex, because that’s “funny.” (You have to use lots of quotation marks in talking about this movie, because nothing here is what it is intended to be, like the “humor.”) If she actually was a nice, modest girl, she wouldn’t be hanging around with such an asshole, and then she wouldn’t be running off to marry him on the other side of the country, and then Jimmy wouldn’t be prompted to build a portable bubble and run off after them to stop the wedding. Because he loves her. And that’s “funny.”
Things get really “funny” once Jimmy hits the road and encounters all sorts of “colorful” characters, like “crazy” bikers and a “wacky” Hindu — you know, those nutters who worship cows; “hilarious”! — and a group of members of a cult called Bright & Shiny, who are like the Partridge Family on cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. Something is seriously wrong when a film manages to insult brainwashed cult members. And yet Bubble Boy achieves this dubious low. But then, all religion here is either a dodge or a joke — again, when even an atheist like me can be galled by the unbelievably low blows lobbed against religious faith, something truly, uniquely base has been attained.
And yet, I cannot possible do this movie justice. It’s so much worse than mere words can impart. Think Edward Scissorhands, as remade by Mrs. Jones’ fourth grade class… and Bubble Boy would make that film look like Casablanca. This may be an object lesson in how to make a bad movie — it’s entirely without feeling of any kind, unless you count the pain the audience is in. Oh, and the contempt on the part of the filmmakers for both their audience and their characters. I mean, check this: In one scene, not even the worst, “Burn, Baby, Burn” plays happily on the soundtrack while the one character we’re supposed to be sympathizing with, Jimmy, is in mortal danger of being consumed by fire. Are we supposed to laugh at this? I felt as if I might spontaneously combust, if only to escape. But even when you think Bubble Boy cannot possibly make your jaw drop any further, you’ll suddenly find that it’s drilling through the floor, and people watching The Others in the screening room below you are getting plaster falling on their heads.
I’m not ready to give up on my boy Jake yet. If he takes acting seriously and is genuinely interested in the craft (as his fabulous performance in October Sky seemed to indicate; he even pulled off an accent, fer pete’s sake), and if he doesn’t want to do the typical teen-movie junk an attractive young man of his age is usually cast in, then he probably doesn’t have a lot of choices left to him. That doesn’t excuse his appearance here, but it does begin, perhaps, to explain it.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Donnie Darko.