BOY BUBBY (Blue
Underground) 1993. Drama/Comedy. 114
minutes. Not rated. Nudity,
some violence, other adult situations. It's not enough that Bubby
(Nicholas Hope) is an unkempt, mid-thirtysomething man who lives with his
abusive single mother (Claire Benito) in a dank hovel stained with all the
bodily humors of the rainbow. He
is also a literal mental infant who has never been allowed outside and is
unwilling to test Mom's dual threats of divine punishment and poison gas
beyond the front door (an idea she sells by wearing a gas mask into and
out of the house). Add to that
some intense family dynamics -- including a complicated man/housecat
relationship and the abrupt return of Bubby's grizzled, booze-infused
father (did I mention he's the town vicar?) -- and you're still only
halfway there. Although mentally challenged, Bubby has a savant's talent
for mimicking the speech and mannerisms of people and animals.
A poorly timed display of this gift almost immediately angers his
newly arrived Pop (Ralph Cotterill), and when Bubby is thrown out of the
house and finds no brimstone or phosgene in his lungs, a new chapter in
his manchildhood begins. Leaving
his circumscribed past behind, he sets out into the city, bent not so much
on making up for lost time as hungrily chasing new stimuli.
His utter lack of guile occasionally gets him in trouble and makes
for the few really hard-to-watch scenes here, but for the most part his
childlike soul quickly endears him to people who supply various
combinations of music, alcohol, nookie, jail, and junk food.
(Travel tip: Like
.) His biggest benefactors are
a roving bar band who adopt him as a roadie.
He soon becomes their cryptic, spastic frontman, the rote replays
of his awful home life consumed by the crowds as a part of the act.
Little do they know how much he suffered for his art.
But without a lick of self-pity, our Bubby backs his way into a
niche of his own in post-punk society; and isn't that -- plus having our
story turned into a 12-bar blues riff -- what we all really want?
Some films don't stay with me beyond the
click of the one-way exit door at the cineplex ("Dr. Detroit,"
I'm looking at you). Others
strive for the heavens on celluloid wings of hubris and make me feel
guilty when I don't get them ("My Left Foot," "The Towering
Inferno"). I'm quite
pleased to report that "Bad Boy Bubby" is neither A nor B. To
peg writer/filmmaker Rolf de Heer's story simply as a redemption tale
would be like calling his title protagonist a man with issues.
Both are true but only form the nucleus of things much larger,
harder to label and often bracingly inappropriate.
De Heer's narrative has a measured pace which allows the cast --
Hope in particular -- to push their characters in interesting ways without
bogging the story down. The
scenes, especially after Bubby leaves home, become sequential, distinct
vignettes that are appropriate to how Bubby, with a stunted concept of
cause, effect, and continuity, might function in the world around him.
Visually and aurally, de Heer is superb.
His film is beautifully shot; Bubby's domestic life especially
reminded me of "Eraserhead" and "
" with its steadfast rejection of color, light, and charm.
Sound also plays a huge role in this film, from oppressive
industrial backgrounds (more Lynch and Gilliam) to raucous garage-pop
rousers to the sweet voice of a Salvation Army darling who briefly but
memorably shows Bubby the power of song. Bubby doesn't -- indeed can't --
see himself as a bad boy, and neither should we.
Think of Bubby's bizarre odyssey as a demented, NC-17 version of
the Sunday-comic neighborhood meanderings of that "Family
Circus" twerp, and you're not far off.
"Bad Boy Bubby" is in part a study on life, liberty, and
the pursuit of stimulus, one that I dug immensely.
But if you need more than such a romp promises, rest assured you
will also learn that just because a person's worldview may not extend
beyond their physical reach, their heart can still be as big as New South
Wales. You may be startled,
elated, or mortified, but you won't be disappointed.
Wonderful extras on this DVD include spoiler-laden interviews with
de Heer and Hope, and an early, very creepy short film starring Hope.