All he needs is love.
As a rule, Hollywood portrays the mentally disabled as quaint, likeable, quirky and entirely benign people who occasionally say the wisest things. No wait, I’m thinking of Australians. Anyway, if you want to watch both conventions refreshingly shattered, see the Australian Indy legend Bad Boy Bubby.
It may seem like a Francis Bacon painting come to life, and you may come very, very close to switching it off. Do yourself a favour and give it five minutes, and another five, and another. After the first twenty minutes of horrified fascination, you’ll appreciate the pay off.
‘Bubby’ (Nicholas Hope) has been locked up in his room for all his 35 years and used as a sex toy by his mother. He eventually gets out into the real world and discovers it can’t be any worse. Like a darkly inverted Chauncey Gardner from Being There, Bubby is a blank slate thrust into the world, attempting to interpret it from a limited and damaged perspective. It’s like Plato’s cave in a modern twisted world: Bubby is a master mimic and can only parrot back phrases he has heard.
The series of vignettes connect less to form a plot as a journey of discovery. Much of his journey involves the coincidences, symbolism and overtly self-aware characters that only surface in low-budget ‘message films’. And yet limitations aside, it is a very unique and brave film that manages to say a lot. Bubby encounters technology, theology, music and sex in a whirlwind. He is not a passive observer. He actively wants to participate, touch and connect with all he sees. Although sometimes to his detriment, this drive ultimately serves him.
So many Hollywood actors fail to give up the vanity necessary to do a disabled role, precisely because they are doing the role out of vanity. Nicholas Hope is excellent as Bubby. He is convincingly awkward. The role is sympathetic enough to give us permission to laugh at some of his choices. I admired the use of disabled actors, and found those scenes both non-patronising and refreshingly honest.
As the film involves a character entering the world for the first time, you will forgive it if some of the dialogue is didactic. The band member’s monologue regarding the history of cultures ‘cling-filming’ (‘plastic wrap’ for our North American readers) each other is a nice distillation of world history. It’s a simple explanation and disturbingly true.
Hollywood approaches all subjects in a manner that affirms society overall: it allows challenges to our sense of well-being only as a means of dismissing them. Bad Boy Bubby declares that society has a great deal for which to account. A character delivers a monologue in which he states we must, ‘Think god out of existence, it is our duty to insult him, strike me down if you dare to, you tyrant, you non-existent fraud. It is our duty to think god out of existence, because then and only then do we take full responsibility for who we are!’ Agree or not, I will support any film that trusts me enough to draw my own conclusions.
It’s all a matter of taste. Everyone will find something in it disturbing and affirming in turns. If you share Bubby’s fascination with ‘Great tits … big whoppers of ’em’ you’ll enjoy much of it. Whereas if you are a cat lover, you might find it difficult in places. But by the time you reach the ending with Lisa Gerard beautifully interpreting Handel’s ‘Largo’ you’ll mostly remember the good.
Director: Rolf de Heer
Writer(s): Rolf de Heer
Runtime(s): 112 minutes
Soren McCarthy, Cult Movies In Sixty Seconds: The Best Films In The World In Less Than A Minute, Fusion Press, 2003.