Rolf De Heer’s “Bad Boy Bubby” is an original dramatic comedy with something to offend just about everybody. Provocative in content, and stylistically daring and inventive, pic will be launched at the Venice Film Festival, and could ride a crest of controversy to become a challenging arthouse item in many territories.
“Bubby” starts off like a modern variation on “The Wild Child” or “Kaspar Hauser,” then veers off into the sci-fi territory of “Starman” or John McNaughton’s “The Borrower,” in which an alien acquires knowledge and power from the people who cross his path.
A crazy religious freak (Claire Benito) has kept her son Bubby (Nicholas Hope) in isolation for 35 years. Living in a grubby, windowless room, they bathe each other, and even have sex together. Mom occasionally ventures outside, wearing a gas mask to protect her from the supposedly poisoned environment.
This strange existence is interrupted by the arrival of Bubby’s long-lost father (Ralph Cotterill), a ragged priest heavily into booze and sex. When he displaces Bubby in Mom’s bed, the younger man’s jealousy erupts in violence, as he suffocates his parents in cellophane, then leaves home for thefirst time.
Up to here, pic unfolds entirely in the cramped room. Out in the city, Bubby encounters “normal people,” whose language, speech patterns and actions he memorizes and repeats, often at inappropriate moments.
These people include a pretty Salvation Army femme who takes Bubby to bed; members of a band that achieves cult status once Bubby joins it; a doleful scientist (Norman Kaye) who violently denounces God; a group of feminists who beat Bubby when he makes advances toward one of them; a prison cellmate who rapes him; a plump nurse (Carmel Johnson) with whom he falls sweetly in love, and an anguished teen (Rachael Huddy) for whom Bubby acts as a kind of interpreter.
No fewer than 30 cameramen and women filmed these sequences, the idea being to depict Bubby’s experiences in different visual styles, though the end result is visually seamless.
James Currie has provided an intricate stereo soundtrack of unusual quality.
Using Bubby as a kind of human sponge, De Heer is able to comment on many aspects of contempo society in a totally uncompromising manner.Among those likely to be outraged are the devoutly religious, feminists, animal lovers and the Salvation Army.
Yet ultimately, this dark mirror on the world provides an extraordinary panorama of humanity and the environment in the 1990s.
It is very much to the credit of writer-director De Heer (whose previous work included the sci-fi thriller “Incident at Raven’s Gate” and the Miles Davis musical “Dingo”) that he has presented such an unflinching vision.
Nicholas Hope gives a brave and sometimes astonishing performance as the naive “wild child.”
Supporting cast, a mixture of professionals and amateurs, is uniformly excellent, with standout perfs from Benito and Cotterill as Bubby’s parents, and Johnson as the patient nurse.
The frequent male and female nude scenes are presented in forthright fashion.Shot in the widescreen Technovision process, pic is extremely handsome and transcends the modest budget. Running time is a shade long, but the pace never seriously flags.