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Bad Boy Bubby

Blue Underground // Unrated // July 28, 2009 // Region 0
List Price: $34.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 10, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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bare-assed naked, balding, middle-aged manchild gets a spongebath from his mother in some Fincheresque basement apartment in Adelaide, and...hey, then it's Mom's turn. Bath time is followed up by graphic incest between this mental infant and his sneering, sadistic, bloated hedgehog of a mother. Bubby doesn't have any friends or even any other family, but he does have a pet to keep him company: a stray cat he keeps locked under a grate and jabs repeatedly with a stick. This same depraved, double-digit-IQ shut-in dolls himself up in drag -- complete with fake, cartoonishly oversized boobs -- and ties his pet cat to a chair and whacks her with a ladel. Mom hisses at Bubby to not move from his own chair while she's out for the day; she'll know if he's nudged so much as an inch, and Bubby, following his marching orders to the letter, doesn't get up, even though it means he's slathered in his own urine and excrement afterwards. When Mom waltzes back in, takes off her gas mask, and sees his piss dripping through the bottom of Bubby's chair, she beats the holy hell out of him...oh, but she forgives him just in time for another round of incest.

All of that...? That's just the first ten minutes of Bad Boy Bubby. (I forget if Mom strangles Bubby and if he starts swathing his kitty-cat in Saran Wrap before or after that. The details get a little fuzzy.) See, Bubby's been locked inside his apartment for all thirty-five years of his life. Bubby hasn't ever stepped foot outside -- Mom says the air is toxic, and she only has the one gas mask -- and he's never so much as seen or spoken to anyone else. All of that's upended once his father hops back into his life. Pop is just looking for a free roof over his head, a warm meal, and a couple of Double-Hs to motorboat. Sure, he's keen on the idea of palling around with a kid, and Bubby's all wide-eyed and fascinated with having someone else in his life, but...yeah, they each want Mom, and their shithole apartment's not big enough for the three of 'em. That's easily taken care of, tho'. So, with a new nickname -- The Cling Wrap Killer -- and a dead kitty chucked in his suitcase, Bubby sets out to make his way in the world for the first time.

At the outset, Bad Boy Bubby does seem as if it's just demented for the sake of being demented. I mean, some movies think they're pushing the envelope, but Bad Boy Bubby doesn't just straddle the edge; it builds a little gazebo on the edge, strings up a hammock, breaks out the grill...there's really not a minute in its first half hour that isn't sticky, twisted, and depraved. It's a very, very difficult to movie to watch, and that's entirely the point. Sure, it takes a while to pierce its unhinged
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exterior, but there really is a heart thumping away underneath it.

Never seeing anything but the same few dingy walls for three and a half decades straight means Bubby doesn't have any point of reference for...well, anything. All he's ever known is abuse and degradation. He doesn't understand why he can't just stroll up to a woman in a Salvation Army Band and grope her breasts. He's kind of a sociopathic Jeff Lebowski, mimicking and parroting everything he sees and hears. When some prick on the road starts screaming obscenities at him, Bubby doesn't clue in that maybe it's not an altogether winning idea to spout off the same to a traffic cop.

On one level, Bad Boy Bubby works as a particularly twisted fish-out-of-water comedy: learning the finer points of fellatio and becoming enthralled with the endless wonders of pizza, f'r instance. It's remarkably affecting when its glimmers of humanity start breaking through, Bubby stops parroting his mother's hateful commands and treats an orphaned kitty with sweetness & tenderness, when he discovers just how ill-prepared for he is for this world that he hides under the mantle of his dead father, as he finds himself able to communicate with the severely disabled in a way he can't with society at large... It's such a dramatic shift from complete revulsion to sweetly charming, and yet director Rolf de Heer and star Nicholas Hope gradually ease into it. There isn't one scene with some epochal change where Bad Boy Bubby shifts gears, nor is there a heavy-handed moral message it quadruple-underlines over and over again. Who would've guessed that a movie opening with cat torture and graphic incest could turn out to be so infectiously sweet? That I'd feel the hooks dig so deep into my flesh that as Bubby comes into his own -- as he seizes control of the audience that flocks to him
As a green belt keyboard nerd, I was kind of excited to see a Yamaha DX-7 featured so prominently.
instead of just continuing to be a psychopathically rambling geek someone so disconnected from humanity becomes entrenched in it -- the movie really does feel like an uplifting triumph?

Really tearing into Bad Boy Bubby would make this more of an essay than a Blu-ray review, but there's an enormous level of depth to explore: its fiercely atheistic religious bent, the seductive and empowering thrall of music, acceptance and embrace of the unconventional, the healing power of human connections without one's individuality being stomped into conformity, redirecting adversity into strength... de Heer mentions in an interview on this Blu-ray disc that entire doctorate theses have been written about the film, and I have no doubt that this is true. It's abrasive and experimental, and yet Bad Boy Bubby never loses sight on the strength of its storytelling or characterization. This is a truly exceptional performance by Nicholas Hope, and with a character who speaks like a stilted two year old when he's not parroting whatever else he happens to have heard, it requires Bubby to be drawn largely through physical mannerisms and facial expressions. Hope is a colossal talent, and it's borderline-criminal that I haven't seen more of him elsewhere.

Bad Boy Bubby is engineered to provoke an intense reaction, but its surface depravity isn't just there for cheap shock value. It's a remarkably engaging film that seems as if it has more and more to reveal with each viewing; if not for deadlines and all, I wish I'd been able to give it a second or even a third look before sitting down to write this review. Though its release on Blu-ray isn't particularly startling, Bad Boy Bubby itself certainly is. Recommended.

I missed out on Bad Boy Bubby on DVD, but the 1080p image on this Blu-ray disc is definitely more clearly defined than the standard-def clips scattered around the extras. Shiny, sparkling high definition eye-candy it's not, though. Bad Boy Bubby is fairly soft and never delivers the sort of clarity or detail I'm used to catching in high-def. Black levels are anemic, and some of the lenses used in the opening stretch give the movie a deliberately skewed look, flattening and distorting the photography. That sort of hazy, otherworldly quality works to its favor, actually, but don't expect some razor-sharp, dazzlingly detailed disc this time around. Aside from some of the brighter splashes of color as Bubby first makes his way out into the city, the low-key palette reflects the movie's frequently dour tone: cast in an ashen gray inside the squalor of Bubby's apartment and gloomy and overcast otherwise. The texture of its film grain isn't as distinct as I'm used to seeing on Blue Underground's releases, but maybe that too dates back to the original photography. No idea. The source is fairly clean, though, not marred by any speckling or damage of note.

Bad Boy Buddy is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and has been encoded with AVC.

Again, I don't have Blue Underground's DVD handy to do a direct comparison, but I'd be surprised if there were any real difference between that disc's six-channel audio and these 24-bit, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks. The recording is pretty flat, but the nature of the movie doesn't scream out for swooping dynamics or anything like that. One intriguing decision that director Rolf de Heer made was to place wireless microphones just above Nicholas Hope's ears, and even though the movie itself isn't shot first-person, those binaural mics still drop viewers straight into Bubby's shoes. It helps convey the sense of claustrophobia as Bubby's shuttered inside his dingy apartment, and ditto for just how overwhelmed he feels after stepping out into the real world. Because these are mics attached to his head, it's kind of funny to hear things brush up against them as he moves around. There's a pretty convincing sense of directionality, and even though the track isn't especially detailed and doesn't belt out much in the way of dynamic range, that sense of immersion more than makes up for it.

Also included are subtitle streams in English (traditional and SDH), French, and Spanish.

Bad Boy Bubby carries over all of the extras from Blue Underground's DVD release from a few years back. Disappointingly, though, the commentary from some of the overseas sets hasn't made its way to these shores.
  • Christ, Kid, You're a Weirdo (24 min.; SD): Even
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    without a feature-length commentary track to tear into, director Rolf de Heer tackles an enormous amount of ground: writing the screenplay over the course of ten years, envisioning using two different aspect ratios to help sell the claustrophobia of its first act, its unconventional visual and aural experiments, and the politically charged ending he was considering at one point. de Heer also chats about the enormous success of Bad Boy Bubby internationally and how it was considered to be so noxious -- by people who hadn't actually seen it, naturally -- that it sparked threats of an Italian/Aussie boycott!

  • Being Bubby (14 min.; SD): The spotlight swings over to star Nicholas Hope for the second of Bad Boy Bubby's interviews, and among the highlights here are how he became ensnared in this fable-like story, researching deeply into autism and even the movements of cats to bring Bubby to life, the embarrassment and hesitation he felt during the early days of the shoot, and how the film left him typecast but in very different ways from one country to the next. Hope offers a tremendous amount of insight into his performance, and this too is essential viewing for anyone giving Bad Boy Bubby a spin.

  • Confessor Caressor (20 min.; SD): It was this 16mm short that inspired Rolf de Heer to cast Nicholas Hope in Bad Boy Bubby. Hope plays a stilted, dementedly childlike serial killer whose weapon of choice isn't cling wrap this time around but knives...and lots of 'em. (Tim Tom and Kevin would love this guy.) "Confessor Caressor" is structured like a true crime documentary, only as the narrator coldly rattles off notes about the butcher's reign of terror, Hope crops up to gleefully chat about carving his victims apart. There's...more going on here than it'd seem at first glance, tho'.

  • Trailer (2 min.; SD): A two minute trailer rounds out the extras.

The Final Word
Bad Boy Bubby isn't the sort of movie that you passively watch, indifferently shrug off, and then see that dusty memory disappear in the rear view mirror afterwards. Challenging, depraved, and enthralling, Bad Boy Bubby will spark an intense reaction. It's so extreme that many viewers would be better off steering clear altogether, especially anyone who's remotely religious or has a particularly soft spot for kitties. For those adventurous enough to give Bad Boy Bubby a look, though, it's a fascinatingly compelling experience, especially once some glimmers of hope start beaming into Bubby's bleak life. For a film that has so much to dissect -- I almost don't feel adequately prepared to write this review only having watched it once -- I really would've liked to have seen more in the way of extras. Also, expect to be startled by the movie but not so much by its presentation on Blu-ray; I can't imagine it's much more than a modest step up over the DVD from a few years back. That's okay: even though Bad Boy Bubby benefits less from the upgrade to Blu-ray than virtually everything in Blue Underground's catalog, if the high-def hook helps expose the film to a wider audience, that's good enough for me. Recommended..

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