Selling the premise of a boy trapped in a bubble with no immune system presents a variety of issues. 2001 was a strange year for filmmakers. They were coping with the receding fear of Y2K, and in that time had seemingly crafted features that were meant to be seen by no living, breathing person. These were the last-ditch hopes of sparking some insanity as the world crashed around them. But it was not to be. A Windows update here and a realisation that Y2K wasn’t going to crash the world there, and the likes of Bubble Boy are born. Unique, strange energy radiates from this Blair Hayes feature, one that taps into the terrors and imagination of the early 2000s.
There is a similarity to Rat Race found within. A collation of cooky characters chase after a set objective. Here, it is the adventures of Jimmy Livingston (Jake Gyllenhaal) that coaxes these people into a race across the country. They are off to Niagra Falls, either aiding or assaulting Livingston as he tries to stop his friend from getting married. While the best of topics are those that stop others from seeking happiness, Bubble Boy leans into this with inefficiency. There is no real simplicity or continuity. Comedic pockets come and go, exploding onto the screen with little realisation of story or character arcs. We learn nothing about any of these characters, other than that they are insane aspects living on the fringe of society.
I hate to be a stickler for detail, but the portable bubble Jimmy Livingston fashions would render the first part of his surname redundant. He lets the sickly air of the real world inside of his bubble, and without an immune system, he is likely not long for this Earth. Hopefully not, as his bubbly personality is relatively annoying. But it is this style that presents Bubble Boy the many manic episodes. It is a film that wishes to display disgust for religion, faith and lifestyles that are not the coddled, suburban living. It is remarkably off-key and offensive, but to some degree, the lightness of its topics and its frequent punching down of every class, creed and way of living offers an equal judgment from the idiots in the writing department. It has the early-2000s quality that many desire.
“A single germ could kill me,” and should we be so lucky to see such an outcome, Bubble Boy would last less on the mind of audiences. As the green, rubber hands of a loving mother fondle the face of the immune-less child, there is a feeling that Bubble Boy is not quite right. M.C. Hammer lingers on the soundtrack, dirty jokes that somehow filter through the rather tame storyline and simplistic writing, Bubble Boy has that frenetic, crucial madness to it. As the bubble-bound boy rides into Las Vegas on the back of Danny Trejo’s motorbike, there is a lucidity and beautiful fear to the pairing, the iconography, and the landscape Hayes presents. We have not tripped this hard or this boldly in Sin City since Hunter S. Thompson rallied a collection of drugs and wheeled his way through the streets in search of the American Dream. Livingston is in search of his own dream, and there is an underlining beauty to that.