All the mad world’s a freak’s show in Bubble Boy. And every freak’s a child of God — or the higher power of your choice.
Say a combination of Frankenstein and a lesser John Waters dug up The Wizard of Oz (1939) to reanimate it as a satirically fractured American fairy tale. He cuts out Dorothy, Auntie Em and her sideshow of dysfunctional friends. Then he transplants in their place Jimmy Livingston (Jake Gyllenhaal), a so-called “Bubble Boy” (a child born without a functioning immune system and isolated in a sterile, plastic-wrapped reverse quarantine to survive), his mother (Swoosie Kurtz) possessed with the Christian fanaticism of Carrie’s mom and the overprotective snarl of a Rottweiler, and a motley crew of other characters mythicized into American pop culture’s freak show: bikers, cult members, a Hindu food vendor and actual sideshow freaks. Then he sends them on a mad, mad, mad, mad race for the graillike Oz of connubial true love — or the true messiah. It certainly doesn’t look like Kansas anymore. Welcome to Bubble Boy.
Gyllenhaal looks as if he could be Brendan Fraser’s (the heroic hunk of The Mummy Returns) baby brother. He plays the role with all of the early Fraser’s goofy, wide-blue-eyed innocence. Kurtz’s carrot-topped Mrs. Livingston is Lucille Ball meets the Wicked Witch of the West. Marley Shelton (Valentine) is the perfect girl next door, Chloe. Blue-eyed and peaches and cream, she’s Jimmy’s estranged soul mate, the reason he runs, bounces and rolls across the country in his silly bubble suit. Italian heartthrob Fabio cameos as Gil, the leader of a singing, Brady Bunch-like cult who evangelize on a TV show called “Bright and Shiny.”
Bubble Boy’s stereotypical Hindu and exploitation of “freaks” (a midget, a giant and a “pinhead”) is questionable. But if the film has a message, it could be that we’re all freaks created equal as bright and shiny children of God, Gil or Shiva. We’re all free-range asylum Jesuses and avatars. And innocence can survive even when our bubbles burst.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at [email protected].