Judge Paul Corupe is a bad boy too, but his Ritalin takes care of most of it.
Our review of Bad Boy Bubby (Blu-Ray), published July 31st, 2009, is also available.
"Christ kid, you're a weirdo."—Pop (Ralph Cotterill)
Rolf de Heer's rollicking festival hit Bad Boy Bubby is a balancing act of humanism and pure vulgarity, a decidedly cult film that pushes its "stranger in a strange land" plot to the darkest cinematic corners. Through Bubby, an idiot savant let loose in modern day Australia, de Heer tackles everything from religion to sex, but his film is haphazardly scripted, making for a wildly uneven, if unique experience. Dedicated cult film preservationists Blue Underground have unleashed Bad Boy Bubby into the DVD world with a spectacular new release that guarantees to both delight and offend.
Facts of the Case
Thirty-five year old Bubby (Nicholas Hope, Scooby-Doo) has led a completely sheltered existence, having never stepped foot outside the dingy, two room hovel he shares with his mother (Claire Benito, Struck by Lightning). When he's not torturing his pet cat, gulping down soggy bread for dinner, or staring fearfully at the crucifix on the wall, Bubby is made to satisfy his mother's sexual needs, at least until his absent father (Ralph Cotterill, Whipping Boy) unexpectedly returns. Suddenly finding himself a third wheel, Bubby imitates his father's behaviors in an attempt to get back into his mother's graces (and her bed), but the plan backfires, and after a strange turn of events, Bubby must leave the apartment and fend for himself in a world he does not understand. Mimicking the people he meets, Bubby takes off on a picaresque adventure that takes him from back alleys to rock stardom before he ultimately finds his place (and even love) at a hospital for people with physical disabilities.
Bad Boy Bubby has a sizeable cult following in Australia and Europe, but the film's popularity is set to drastically increase on this side of the Atlantic with the release of this DVD. Despite an occasional tendency toward Hollywood schmaltziness and some script problems, this film should make quite an impression on anyone daring enough to pick it up.
The film's disturbing beginning is a good litmus test for any audience—if you can make it through the claustrophobic first act in Bubby's squalid apartment, then you should have no trouble handling the remainder of the film. In fact, Bad Boy Bubby opens up considerably as he heads out into the real world, with bright colors, wide open cinematography, and a sense of boundless adventure. Unfortunately, this is also where the problems with the film start, as de Hoff begins to pinball Bubby through more life experience in a few days than most people have their entire lives. The resulting plot is less of a narrative than a series of sketchily connected vignettes, as Bubby interacts with different people and situations on his road to self-awareness. In the extras, de Hoff admits that the film was essentially made from the first draft of his script, and it unfortunately shows. Within his first night outside the apartment, Bubby manages to end up in the bed of an attractive young girl, despite possessing only rudimentary communications skills and questionable hygiene. From there, he meets a crude pub band, who immediately adopts him as their roadie before he is arrested for assaulting a woman on the street. When he next finds the band, they are incredibly successful, and he inexplicably joins them as their lead singer, spouting out his acquired phrases as some kind of stream-of-consciousness poetry that makes him a music superstar. That Bubby could learn to adjust to even the most basic tasks is amazing enough, but this accumulation of seat-of-your-pants life experience is as contrived as it is silly.
These sequences are also regularly off-putting, as de Heer intentionally pushes the viewer away with carefully placed scenes of premeditated indignation. Bubby's almost graphic sexual encounters with his obese, aged mother are certainly not for the squeamish, nor are the torture and subsequent accidental murder of his pet cat. When he meets an embittered church organist, Bubby is told, "It is our duty to think God out of existence. It is our duty to insult him. Fuck you, God! Strike me down if you dare, you tyrant, you non-existent fraud!" After he is arrested, Bubby is even subjected to a vicious prison rape, a scene that is wholly unnecessary to any aspect of the story, and seems designed solely to offend.
For all its vulgarity though, at its heart, Bad Boy Bubby is simply a "stranger in a strange land" tale that isn't really that different from Hollywood blockbusters like Forrest Gump and I Am Sam. It still taps into the whitewashed Hollywood mythology that children and the mentally handicapped possess some sort of special knowledge and untouchable innocence that, to me at least, is far more troubling and insulting than any taboo de Hoff throws on the screen. Bubby's "simplicity" results in predictable comic mishaps, a special affinity with animals to illustrate just how ingenuous he is, and a life-affirming conclusion in which he triumphs over his own adversity. The film even begins to get a little heavy-handed as he visits the parents of his girlfriend, who tell their slightly overweight daughter that God doesn't like fat people, prompting Bubby to mimic the organist's profane speech.
Bubby becomes de Heer's personal mirror to society, a flat surface that absorbs everything and spits it back at the people he meets. At first, these mannerisms and bits of dialogue manifest as random non-sequiturs, but as Bubby progresses throughout the film, he starts to actually make sense, even though it isn't apparent if he actually understands what he is saying. As Bubby becomes more coherent, the film seems to be stretching toward some kind of message, yet it's unclear exactly what de Heer has to say beyond a kind of acceptance of the randomness and variety of life-one minute you could be in getting raped in a prison cell, the next you're a rock and roll star. While the film tosses around several interesting ideas, Bad Boy Bubby's message is ultimately as muddled as the script.
Director de Heer employed several technical innovations with Bad Boy Bubby, but I'm not quite sure how successful they are. A different cinematographer and crew shot each of the film's vignettes in order to make each one seem like it is being seen through "fresh eyes." A daring concept, but it doesn't really pay off very well, as the markedly different photography makes the film seem even more fragmented than it already is. Some scenes stand out beautifully, such as the wonderful tracking shot in the police station, and the blunt but beautiful work in the hospital, but others fall by the wayside, remaining completely unmemorable. Secondly, instead of recording the sound with boom microphones, Bubby's head was wired for sound, with a microphone over each ear to let the viewer hear exactly what he would. Again, it's an interesting idea, but since the film is rarely shot from his point of view, I don't know why de Hoff would have opted to do it this way. Furthermore, I'm not sure that Blue Underground's newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track doesn't completely override the claustrophobic sound that de Heer was obviously trying to create.
Offsetting much of the film's unevenness, character actor Nicholas Hope puts in a superior performance as the number one bad boy himself, Bubby. On screen for practically every minute of the film's slightly overlong two-hour running time, Hope really breathes life into his unassuming character, giving us both humor and pathos in equal measures. Hope apparently studied autistic people for his role, and his homework has certainly paid off, making his character wholly believable and sympathetic. With Hope, Bubby's most transcendent moments, usually when he's listening to music or staring at large breasts, are made almost magical.
Regardless of my mixed feelings about the film, Bad Boy Bubby's many fans will certainly want to cozy up to Blue Underground's DVD release, which presents the film in an eye-catching 2.35.1 anamorphic transfer. Colors-at least when Bubby goes out into the world-are strong and bold, and despite a sheen of grain, you can expect only minor incidents of dust and debris. As previously mentioned, the disc features a new 5.1 mix in addition to the original Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. Both are clean, crystal clear tracks, with the 5.1 upgrade giving special emphasis to the directional effects from Bubby's point of view, which makes them a little more disorienting. As for extras, there are two separate interviews, one with Rolf de Heer, and one with Nicholas Hope. Hope's is interesting, as he talks about how he prepared for the part and the effect it had on his career, but de Heer's is where most of the meat is, and in just half an hour, he imparts more useful information about the production and his intentions than many full length commentaries. Also here is Confessor Caressor, the short film from which de Heer discovered Nicholas Hope. Truth be told, I enjoyed the short more than the film itself, an intriguing piece that has Hope playing a disconcertingly childish serial killer who insists on being called the "Confessor Caressor." The short is a little grainy and worse for wear, but we get a sense of Hope's ample talent as he naïvely shows off his collection of knives and talks excitedly about his murders. Rounding out this section are the requisite theatrical trailer and a still gallery.
No, Bad Boy Bubby isn't a great film, but at the very least it's an interesting and provocative one, and a fine example of Australian cinema. Nicholas Hope is at is best here, but ultimately he's let down by the script, which could have used a little more polish and a little more focus. Even though Blue Underground has done their usual fine job on presentation, this is definitely the kind of film that will split audiences—I just found myself on the wrong side of the fence this time.
Christ, kid, you're guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
• Interview with Director Rolf de Heer
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