A man stares vacantly ahead whilst his mother slathers his face with shaving cream. He flinches from a nick from the razor, “Keep still” his mother commands as she raps him on the head. Next shot and we see the man standing naked, whilst he is washed with a hose by his mother. When this film begins, you know pretty quickly that you’re watching something weird: kitchen sink setting, vacant absent-minded stares, slow-well-practised routines and then BAM! Mummy sex.
Bad Boy Bubby is one of those rare films that one feels total affinity and sympathy towards its main subject, which is unusual when considering how Bubby is so damn weird. When you watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vagas (1998) yes Johnny Depp’s Raoul Duke is a weird main character, but he’s also sane enough to know he’s mad.
With Bubby, the audience is taken from his birthplace- that grotty room with his mother- and out into the outside world. The world outside his room, Bubby has been told , is full of poisonous gas: “And if the poison doesn’t get you… God will.” After discovering this is a lie, Bubby leaves the room and encounters a confusing world. One where the performance of our everyday discourse is exactly that, a performance. A scene that comes to mind is the one in which Bubby enters a deli. A woman order some of “those ever-so fattening and delicious eclairs.” Bubby, seeing this, quite understandably concludes that this is the way to get other people to give you food. He goes to the counter and repeats the words of the woman before him who stops at the doorway and turns to look at him.
What makes this, and the other jokes like it in the film hilarious is that through mimicry, often the fabrication that the use of language creates, is often exposed. Hearing someone do a good impression is funny for the same reason that hearing a recording of one’s own voice makes people squeamish; it reveals the nuance of spoken discourse and lays bare the lie of the person that we all choose to present to the world and people around us.
Bubby, having lived in a room for thirty years has no concept of normative behaviour, having only ever known his abusive mother, which is what makes him such a great prism through which to examine and agitate our accepted societal norms. In essence, although difficult to watch, the first 20 minutes or so of the film in that dreadful room, are essential for laying the pretext out for the audience so that they understand why Bubby is so strange and unusual, which then leads to the much lighter and more watchable latter part of the film.
One of the famous scenes in the film is when a priest takes Bubby aside and launches into a monologue about how the world must, “will God out of existence, because only then can humanity begin to take responsibility for who we are.” As well as being an incredibly moving and poignant speech, is also fascinating that this speech comes from a priest. Religion is something that is used for different reasons by different characters in the film. Bubby’s mother, for example, has a tiny crucifix on one of her filthy bare walls. “Don’t move, or Jesus will get ya” she warns Bubby before she makes a trip outside. However, Bubby’s mother can hardly be considered to follow a religious lifestyle, as she engages in an incestuous and abusive relationship with her son. The choir girl whom Bubby encounters shortly after leaving his room uses religion to pursue a hedonistic lifestyle and Angel’s parents towards the end of the film use religion to shame and suppress their daughter. Overall, no one in the film uses religion as they typically “should” be doing, that is to pursue a holy and righteous lifestyle. This ties into the facades and illusions that we all choose to present to the world, with religion being one of the basis’s from which some people draw their identity.
This is an incredibly rare and interesting film that explores that well-worn path of analysis of the human condition but takes this exploration in a totally unique and hilarious direction. If you’re a fan of cult films that may push you out of your comfort zone a bit, then this is definitely worth seeing.