Ever heard someone poke fun at people who live in a "Christian bubble"? Jimmy Livingston has. Born without an immune system, he was hospitalized until the age of four, when his Nixon-loving, morality-imposing, overprotective, meanly-stereotyped Christian mother brings him home to live in a plasti-sealed room she’s constructed to protect him from the "evil filthy world." "You’re home now Jimmy," she tells him, "and you’ll never, ever, ever have to go out there again." The only magazine Jimmy has ever read is Highlights. The only TV show he's seen is Land of the Lost. And all his bedtime stories end with, "Then the hero got out of his plastic bubble. And he died."
Jimmy’s sanitary life is all he knows and all he needs. Until he looks out his window and sees Chloe. Being the sweet and virtuous—albeit sexy—girl that she is, Chloe befriends Jimmy, and they spend most of their high school afternoons together. At least as together as they can be with him inside the bubble and her outside. That arrangement isn't completely satisfying for Chloe, so she ends up dating arrogant, hormone-driven Mark. A couple of years later, when Mr. Wrong whisks Chloe off to Niagara Falls to get married, Jimmy bursts out of his bubble and treks across the country to stop the wedding and declare his love.
Armored in a homemade porta-bubble, Jimmy is ready for adventure. Of course, he has no money to pay for a bus ticket, so he ends up hitching rides with a motley assortment of accomplices. A curry-peddling Hindu. A busload of brainwashed, deer-in-the-headlights, smiley-faced cult members. A freak show. A Mexican gang. You get the picture. Nobody’s lifestyle is sacred. Everyone’s a stereotype, and everyone takes a sound beating—especially Jimmy’s moldy mother and her so-called Christianity.
I suppose it’s necessary to say that Jimmy does eventually rescue and marry Chloe, and the two live happily ever after. But after 83 minutes of hackneyed slapstick and tired racial, religious and disability jabs, it’s hard to care.
positive content: The lesson Jimmy learns on his quest is that he should live a life of "no regrets." His Mexican friend Slim instructively asks, "You didn’t get out of that bubble to play it safe, did you?" Chloe stands up to Mark and tells him she plans to wait until she’s married to have sex, and there’s nothing in the film to indicate that she breaks this vow. Jimmy’s love for Chloe is self-sacrificing. He is willing to expose himself to the world and all its germs (even though he assumes it will kill him) just to show his love for her. "I’d rather spend one minute holding you than the rest of my life knowing I never could," he tells her.
spiritual content: To call this film’s depictions of religion "spiritual" is an insult. Everyone’s beliefs are as "comically" stereotypical as possible. Mrs. Livingston is prudish, asexual and hypocritical. She bakes fat-free vitamin-enhanced cookies in the shape of a cross. She preaches Christian morals, but is herself mean and prejudiced. Depictions of religions other than Christianity can’t possibly be seen as proselytizing, since they’re all done in a mocking tone. The Hindu curry vendor worships cows and believes in reincarnation. The Bright and Shiny Cult has a compound in Texas and worships the prophet Gil (played by Fabio). And at the end, almost everyone abandons his own traditions, making the point (if there is a point) that none of this religious mumbo-jumbo (including Christianity) really matters anyhow.
sexual content: Though Chloe ostensibly remains a virgin, her sexiness is played up, and contributes to Jimmy experiencing his first erection. When he calls his mother to help him with his newly discovered "problem," she says, "Just do what I tell your father to do: say the Pledge of Allegiance over and over until it goes away." Though Mrs. Livingston is apparently averse to having sex with her husband, the audience discovers that she has quite a past with motorcycle man Slim. She also delights in calling Chloe "the whore next door." Numerous sexual wisecracks are made. The midget leader of the "Dr. Phreak’s Phreak Show" puts his hand on a woman’s breast. Jimmy mud-wrestles with two bikini-clad women. In a Las Vegas casino, there’s a sign advertising "hot virgins." Jimmy’s rescue attempt culminates in him hugging Chloe while wearing just his Underoos and a T-shirt.
violent content: Slim likes to make threats with his knife, but he never follows through on them. Other than that, it’s mostly cartoonish violence: a bus crash. A fist fight. A wedding disruption. And so on and so forth.
crude or profane language: Two s-words, about 10 mild profanities and a few misuses of God’s name. There is also a handful of crude sexual slang. Even Jimmy’s self-righteous mother swears.
drug and alcohol content: On her birthday, Chloe offers Jimmy a beer. He doesn’t accept it then ("Because I was scared"), but later he tries a beer in her honor and one sip knocks him out.
other negative content: Jimmy and Slim gamble in a Las Vegas casino.
conclusion: A fellow believer whom I respect very much once commented on films that take jabs at Christianity: "If you start messing with Jesus, I’m going to be on your case. But if you satirize Christians, I’m probably going to agree with you." I thought this an astute observation, because satire often contains elements of truth. Christians ought to strive to be winsome. When the world pegs us as legalistic, superstitious and fearful, we should be honest enough to evaluate our lives and weed out any lurking legalism, superstition and fear. However, when berating and misrepresenting the Christian faith becomes an out-and-out assault, strong objections are in order. Is it supposed to make moviegoers breathe easier just because—South Park style—Bubble Boy goes to great lengths to offend everyone? I’m not falling for it. Because Mrs. Livingston is such a central character, it’s her Christian faith (or what the filmmakers think is Christian faith) that suffers most. When the foundation for all goodness and truth is obliterated, as it is in Bubble Boy, even supposedly sweet moments lose their basis and their appeal.
And that's just the spiritual side. Support groups for children with chronic immune disorders aren't laughing either. The 15,000-member Immune Deficiency Foundation (IDF) asked the Walt Disney Co. (Touchstone is a Mouse subsidiary) to cancel the release of Bubble Boy long before it arrived in theaters. The group, based in Towson, Md., is concerned about the impact of the movie on many Americans that know very little about Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID. "I'm sure that in the politically correct society in which we live, almost any movie you release raises the hackles of one group or another," IDF founder Marcia L. Boyle wrote to Disney CEO Michael Eisner. "There's a part of me that almost feels sympathy for the criticism that you must continuously face over good-natured movies that cause protest. There is nothing good-natured, however, about THIS movie. It's not only offensive, it's positively horrifying." IDF is urging moviegoers to boycott Bubble Boy now that Disney has ignored pleas for cancellation.
Not a bad idea.