Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.”
The Movie: “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble”
Starring: John Travolta, Glynnis O’Connor, Robert Reed
Director: Randal Kleiser
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) The girl next door makes a teen born with immune deficiencies want to leave his germ-free bubble
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: N/A (48 percent audience score)
Brown: Look, incurable disease isn’t funny.
But, when John Travolta is the man acting like he has a disease, it’s JOE-Down material.
A week after watching “The Flintstones,” a movie where I am thankful an asteroid eventually wiped out everyone and everything, we now turn to “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble,” a made-for-TV movie starring JOE-DOWN icon John Travolta as a boy. In a bubble.
A bubble where he apparently masturbates a lot. Yeah, his character addresses that. It was weird.
There’s a few reasons to do this movie. 1. Travolta. 2. It’s such an odd concept for a movie (and one that’s based on the true story of David Vetter, the “Bubble Boy ). 3. It’s Bill Brasky’s favorite movie.
This is a made-for-TV movie that was also co-produced by Aaron Spelling, whose later shows would haunt me in the ‘90s just because I had an older sister. I still cringe at the “Beverly Hills, 90210” theme.
So Froemming, what did you think of this boy causing trouble in a bubble? And with that premise, how disappointed were you when we watched this instead of “Bio-Dome” again?
Froemming: I’d have rather watched “Bubble Boy” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, because that is a guilty pleasure of a film to me.
But alas, we get Travolta making a character with a serious illness unlikable. That makes, what, EVERY MOVIE HE PLAYS AN ASS that we have reviewed?
*checks the JOE-DOWN catalog* Yup, this checks out.
Now I have to admit something: I have seen this before. As a child of the 80s/90s, these sort of made-for-TV films played a lot, and I was a fat kid so going outside wasn’t an option, so I saw this. I didn’t remember much beyond Vincent Vega was in a bubble and Mike Brady from “The Brady Bunch” was his dad.
No, three decades have passed and maybe it is my jaded heart, but I laughed way too much at a movie about a boy with an immune system disorder. All I could think of were Travolta jokes and the Bubble Boy episode of “Seinfeld.”
Brown, as I put on my orange space suit and venture further into this review, why don’t you kick this off?
Brown: Well, we start off in what I can only imagine is the magical land of the 1950s: A time where doctors would just up and visit you with news instead of making you schedule/pay for an appointment. It’s also a time our government is trying to revert us back to.
Anywho, the doctor (named Ernie) informs John and Mickey Lubitch that they have conceived a child, a bit of relief for a family that has suffered many miscarriages. However, Mickey is a downer and thinks there could be something wrong with the baby. I’d feel that same way if I knew my child grew up to be John Travolta.
Anyway, the birth is a success and the Lubitch family gave birth to what I only assume was a 10-month-old baby because that was NOT a newborn playing that part. That baby may as well walked out of its mother’s womb.
And as it turns out, Mickey’s bad feeling comes true: The child, baby Tod, is born without a proper immune system.
Froemming: We jump a few years into the future, where the Lubitch couple give serious-looking glares at neighbors playing with their children. I get it, they are a little resentful, but if I saw my neighbor glaring at me with the thousand-yard stare, I’d be very uncomfortable.
Brown: I thought for a split-second that this movie would take a dark turn and the Lubitch family would go on a killing spree. They did live in a rather secluded area.
Froemming: Oh, their neighborhood looks like everyone you see on those documentaries about Dahmer or Bundy. It was chilling.
Now, John and Mickey have to visit their son at the hospital, because the kid has to live in a bubble. And we get more serious dialog about regret for bringing a child into this world with such a condition, much in the way I am sure there are parents feeling bad for bringing a child into Trump’s America this day and age.
So they decide to bring the boy home (this home setup would probably bankrupt a small nation in today’s medical costs) and as if the boy doesn’t already have enough problems, he meets the girl across the street. This soul-sucking monster named Gina is to become the cause of a bunch of future grief for Tod, who really needs another (REDACTED) “d” in his first name.
Brown: People, with Froemming and I both working in newsrooms, we kindly ask you to stop naming your kids stupid (REDACTED). I hate having to correct my story because you had to throw random consonants into a name that doesn’t need them to make your child unique.
And to your point, seriously, how did the Lubitch family afford this get-up? Now, I’m sure donations came their way after some news came out about it. But John Lubitch is a teacher, and unless teachers were paid like kings back in the ‘70s, no human-sized hamster maze could be bought on a teacher’s salary.
At least little kid Tod and Gina are adorable. Even when Tod is choking on a teddy bear eye on his first night home. Also, Tod is the calmest child ever if he chokes on something and just goes right back to bed afterwards. I see a kid fall unexpectedly and they act like they’re scarred for life.
Froemming: Now we time jump to our meat and potatoes: Robert Reed with his perm and mustache. I don’t know who thought this look was good, but they should be shot for war crimes.
We also get our JOE-DOWN hero, Travolta as older Tod.
And Travolta is leering at older Gina while wearing this goofy Stevie-Wonder-in-the-1970s-hat. At least Mr. Wonder had a reason for not knowing how ridiculous his hat looked.
Brown: I thought Travolta looked like Mushmouth from “Fat Albert.”
So yeah, we get a look at teenage Tod, who understandably is in arrested development because, you know, the bubble. He’s now living upstairs, with a room converted for his needs. He’s also ALWAYS wearing short shorts, which is alarming when teenage Gina comes up to his room to invite him to Independence Day fireworks in a swimsuit and robe.
A couple things to mention here. First, Tod is an ass. He visits with Dr. Ernie and is rude to the good doctor and when he doesn’t like what’s said, he tells Ernie “I’m good, you can go now” like a twerp. He’s all “I”m growing up Ernie. I got pubes. Wanna see?” Well, not quite like that, but you get the picture.
My next point: Tod grew up in a bubble in Texas. How the (REDACTED) did he develop a New Yorker accent?!
Froemming: Tod is a jerk to everyone in this movie. He is almost as rude as the Bubble Boy from “Seinfeld” when the Trivia Pursuit card has a printing error saying “the Moops” instead of “the Moors.”
Now, John wants his kid to attend school, though if he hasn’t attended school yet, does Tod have to graduate from each grade to get to high school like Billy Madison? The film doesn’t tell us, so I am guessing he is a homeschool kid, which adds another check against him in the Lord of the Flies (REDACTED) that is the high school experience.
So Tod is set up with a video camera and microphone with both him and his one class he attends. So this movie invented webcams. Great, another reason to mock Travolta. Thanks John for perverts with cameras on their computers.
Brown: With the amount of short shorts Tod wears and, well, being a teenager, he was bound to do something gross to that camera, right?
Froemming: Holy (REDACTED), Brown, there’s somethings you don’t talk about in public!
Brown: Another point: Tod always looks at his neighbors through a pair of binoculars. I just imagine him spying on his neighbors and seeing something terrible like when Bart Simpson breaks his leg and gets a telescope.
And back to his education: How is Tod supposed to stay engaged in his studies when the view he gets from his webcam is almost exclusively the back of his teacher’s head. He also, you know, can’t see the blackboard with that setup.
So, let’s go to the Fourth of July celebration, where Gina breaks Tod’s spirit.
Froemming: Tod agrees to have his family carry him down a bunch of stairs in a portable bubble so he can partake in non-bubble room festivities. And Tod is rightfully awkward here because he hasn’t been around a lot of people: Just his resentful parents he give each other serious stares that are borderline jarring at times.
And we see Gina riding a horse, because why the (REDACTED) not at this point. Everyone is having a good time I guess.
Now it is night time. The fireworks are going off. Johnny Lawrence is beating up Daniel Larusso for getting involved with his personal (REDACTED) at the beach. And Gina that scumbag accepts money to hold hands with Tod.
Seriously, (REDACTED) you Gina.
Brown: Oh, Gina knows she has Tod tied around her finger. We see that later when Gina is failing school and Tod agrees to help her because she smiles at him. She’s the only person who goes to his birthdays that isn’t a middle-aged weirdo with a perm (I imagine). And, she betrayed his by taking TWO DOLLARS and crushing Tod’s feelings. It looked something like this:
In this movie, Gina is Patient Zero for the emotionally abusive woman who the dim-witted oaf of a guy can’t get over. She’s Jenny from “Forrest Gump” before Jenny was a thing.
Because his heart was trampled on, Tod wants to go live in the hospital and is paired with a kid his same age in Roy, who has a tumor that’s being treated with chemotherapy. But lord knows you wouldn’t know that because he looks awfully healthy and has long hair. Seriously, you couldn’t have shaved his head for the role?
Froemming: Roy is also kind of creepy, not going to lie. He gets super emotional when Tod doesn’t want to talk. This is the reason I fear meeting new friends. Brown and a few others are enough for me.
So Roy guilt trips Tod into chatting, and thus begins the classic one-sided friendship due to circumstances. Roy talks. Tod gives one word answers. Ron Swanson would love a friend like Tod.
Soooo…..one day these two are on their exercise bikes and..I‘ll let Brown cover the Master of his Domain speech among these two good time pals.
Brown: It wasn’t much. Roy was just being a horny teenager and him and Tod both insinuated that they masturbate all the time.
Froemming: All. The. Time.
Brown: They’re kids in a bubble. I get it.
When we see Tod back home, he’s got headphones in and he’s just staring at a bunch of colored lights. I know they have classical music playing in the background. But I’d like to believe that Tod actually got some psychedelics and was listening to Yes’ “Close to the Edge” or King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King.” You know, some intense prog rock.
Froemming: Good old high school….
Anyway, Tod is tripping balls in his bubble when Gina rudely storms into his room. Look, we just found out how much Tod likes…his personal time, maybe she should have knocked first.
Anyway, she previously asked John if she could help get Tod back to school again. When John says “sure,” she immediately wants money out of the situations.
Gina is a (REDACTED) horrible person. She craps on Tod when he was her guest that caused him to go back to the hospital, and now she demands to be paid to help the poor kid out?
(REDACTED) you Gina.
So now she is in his room, telling him he shouldn’t be rocking his short-shorts (remember, he did not ask her to come over, so she has no leg to stand on here criticizing his wardrobe in the comfort of his own room) and telling him she is helping him with his school.
Brown: But Gina is… a girl who actually comes over, so she wins!
Let’s get to my favorite character in the movie: The drunk nurse.
So, Tod convinces his parents to go on a vacation because they should take a break. Just send a nurse from the hospital to check on him while they’re gone. Good moment for Tod.
Turns out, he’s paired with a nurse who checks on him and gets white wine drunk in the kitchen afterward. Frankly, she’s the only sympathetic character in this movie.
And, when Tod wants to go outside, he forces this nurse, along with Gina, to lift his teenage ass and his heavy-looking fish tank. Honestly, this nurse looks like she wants to drown both of these teens in the lake or butcher them with a machete like Mrs. Vorhees.
I feel her pain.
Froemming: As the nurse is getting day drunk, Tod convinces Gina to jump her horse over his bubble that probably cost so much money his parents will never retire.
And she does.
And the stunt doubles for both actors look nothing like the actors. It’s amazing. I think Gina has a mustache.
After this hilarious moment, one of Gina’s boyfriends pop by and she decides to ditch Tod.
- She just carried his ass down to go outside with the poor drunk nurse.
- Now she is taking off with another guy and says she will help carry him back up later.
- She gives him a pity kiss so she still has him around her evil little finger.
Seriously, (REDACTED) you Gina.
Brown: So now, when his parents get home, Tod has the idea that not only does he want to resume his studies, but he wants to go to school. You know, a building that is essentially a petri dish with hormonal teenagers. So, they find a way. And here’s a couple notes on what I thought Tod looked like in his new portable space suit.
- He looks like a shaved Wookie. No wait, a giant Ewok.
- He looks like Mr. Smithers dressed as Mr. Burns’ stuffed bear, Bobo.
- He’s a living, breathing, walking, talking oven mitt. This is the love story between a teenage girl and the mascot for Hamburger Helper.
Froemming: His space suit is that gaudy orange from the ‘70s that usually came in shag.
He ventures to school and naturally everyone stares as this candidate for the Space Force is wandering the campus.
He finds his classroom and Gina decides to thank him for being brave for actually showing up. I felt she was doing it to embarrass him because this woman is evil. And so, there Tod is in his crazy suit enjoying the mind-numbing boringness that was the high school experience.
Brown: Speaking of mind numbing, Tod is peer pressured by Gina and her friends to go out on the football field and watch them smoke pot. Because, you know, he can’t exactly get high with them.
To be fair, this was kind of funny because Tod messed with the stoners. But that fun didn’t last long. Because Tod needs to impress Gina so he challenged her main squeeze to a push-up contest, which frankly, Tod should have lost because he barely did quite a few of those push-ups.
And then, Tod’s battery runs out on his air supply and he starts choking. He rushes to a bubble that has somehow built at the school.
The movie makers, they realize that by running into that bubble in the suit they contaminated the bubble, right? These stoners just killed Tod!
Froemming: This is how I wish the film would have gone.
But alas, Tod is saved via the bubble room that just appeared out of nowhere. Seriously, where did that come from? It wasn’t there before was it?
So Tod is saved and he gets a yelling at by Gina. Because she would have felt like it was her fault if he had died.
Guess what Einstein? It would have been! You dragged him from his plug-in area at the school to make him watch you smoke pot.
Brown: And yet, Tod keeps taking Gina back, because he’s either a masochist or emotionally scarred. A little of column A, a little of column B, perhaps?
So they go to the beach together while Tod’s parents keep a watchful eye. Now, how brutal would that suit be to go anywhere, let alone the beach on a hot summer day. It’s like a damn oven mitt. Forget Tod’s immune system; he’s going to die from heat stroke.
Instead, he has a fun night at the beach and lays in the back of a van with Gina. It’s a good thing Todd wears what is essentially a body condom.
Froemming: Yeah, we get these two making out with Tod’s space helmet, which probably saved him from a serious case of herpes. It’s a pretty awkward scene.
Now it is graduation! These kids sure have grown up since we met them. Wait. No. No they didn’t. Tod and Gina will graduate and move to the big city where they will change their names to Bud and Sissy and get hammered and abusive toward one another each night at Gilley’s.
That’s how this ends, right? RIGHT??!!
Brown: Nope. Tod gives another dismissive chat to Dr. Ernie about wanting to know when he can finally go out to the world and you know, live life away from the bubble. Ernie can’t give him a solid answer and Tod acts indignant about it like the doctor owes him something. Tod is a dink.
So, Tod makes an executive decision. He sees Gina outside with her horse. So, he goes to his closet, finds his cosplay costume of Fezzik from “The Princess Bride” and goes over the line from his bubble to the real world. So, a potential death sentence. But it’s worth it for a manipulative girl next door who is about to leave town in a couple months to go to art school.
Froemming: And, this is hilarious, he creepily touches Gina’s face like in “Face/Off” and says it is softer than he imagined. Again, why is Travolta touching people’s faces? This is obviously where this started.
Brown: Hell, he does the same thing to the trees outside! John Travolta needs to stop rubbing things with his hands. Just because the tree can’t say no doesn’t imply consent, you weirdo.
So Tod asks to go on a horse ride like he’s always dreamed of. So the two rode off to the distance. And I waited for text to come on screen saying “Tod died 20 minutes later.” Unfortunately, we got credits.
Froemming: Let’s pop on our orange space suits and venture over to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: I expected worse. But, I would not recommend this movie. It’s just strange. Although, I wish things like this would play on national TV like it did in the ‘70s just for the novelty.
Froemming: The only enjoyable way to watch this is with friends and riffing on it. Otherwise, there is no reason to watch it.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:
Next month is Sports Month once again for the JOE-DOWN. Here is what we will be tackling.