Recognizing the Genius of ‘Bubble Boy’

Bubble BoyTouchstone Pictures

If Bubble Boy had been made in the ’80s as a vehicle for Breakfast Club‘er Anthony Michael Hall, today it would be worshipped as a cult hit. But somehow, in 2001, everyone missed the point. It’s a satire, people. Come on.

By the early aughts, we’d reached the point as a viewing public where we didn’t even have to see a movie to judge it completely. For one hot second, Bubble Boy was the center of a silly controversy — even sillier than the film itself. There was an outcry, probably by people who didn’t bother to screen it, that the movie was somehow offensive to people with immune deficiencies. But to those of us who have watched it (and watched it, and watched it, in my case), Bubble Boy is a goofy road movie that pokes fun at people and institutions who exploit our disabilities and differences. If anyone should be upset, it’s the International Society of Jerks.

For Jake Gyllenhaal, this movie followed the light drama October Sky. Now that he seems exclusively committed to hard-ass cop roles, it’s good fun to look back at his performance as the cripplingly innocent Jimmy, who lives under the thumb (and in the bubble) of his overprotective mother (Swoosie Kurtz). When he leaves his house for the very first time to stop the girl he loves (Marley Shelton) from getting married, I have to root for that crooked smile and misplaced enthusiasm. He’s a Forrest Gump-esque leaf on the wind, who can’t believe that anyone he runs into on his journey has anything less than his best interest at heart. That’s how he picks up with Verne Troyer‘s traveling “freak show” and a kooky religious cult run by — wait for it — Fabio, among other eccentric characters.

Through his travels, Jimmy learns that there are people in the wide world who use others for their own personal gain. But that truth doesn’t curb his curiousity or hunger for the life he’s missed. It’s really pretty sweet. Some of the gags are groan-worthy on first watch, but will grow on you every time you see them. Plus, even with that tragic haircut, Jake Gyllenhaal can still deliver a hell of a screen kiss.

It’s not Citizen Kane, but Bubble Boy has a lot more going on under the surface than the average 5/10 IMDB star comedy. I mean, have you ever seen Citizn Kane? It’s, like, really long. And Fabio isn’t even in it for a second.

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