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  • Writer's pictureRJ Smith

WHAT'S GOOD: Bad Boy Bubby (1993), a film by Rolf de Heer

Bubby is a grown man whose mother has convinced him that he can never leave their small, filthy, windowless flat in suburban Adelaide because the air outside is toxic and will kill him if he does. She uses this lie to enslave and exploit Bubby for her own emotional and sexual needs, leaving him with nothing to do in his free time but catch and dismember cockroaches and taunt their long-suffering pet cat.

The cat is the key to Bubby's escape. Bubby surmises that it must have come from outside, and when his mother tells him that cats do not need to breathe, Bubby decide to test the hypothesis by wrapping cling film around its head, with predictable results.

Then when Bubby’s father, an alcoholic “part time preacher” suddenly returns to the family home after a 35 year absence and proves as callous as Bubby’s mother, Bubby eventually decides it is his parents' turn for the same treatment he gave the cat.

At this point I should point at that this film is, somehow, a comedy, and as horrific as the premise is, it is indispensable to the hilarity and triumph that follows.

With his parents out of the way and his food supply running low, Bubby finally summons the courage to venture outside.

The world he encounters is by turns cruel and kind, as it is for anyone appealing to the humanity of strangers. Bubby knows only what he has learned from his father, mother and those he encounters on the streets, a deformity which endears him to some and provokes hatred in others. Bubby finds himself eating in fashionable restaurants or in bed with beautiful women one moment, only to be tossed back into prison for more sexual abuse the next.

Eventually, Bubby encounters a group of musicians who discover his ability to channel his odd personality into visceral stage performances. Bubby becomes a cult figure on the local music scene, and his gigs are soon packed with doting groupies and aping fanboys.

Meanwhile, Bubby meets and falls in love with Angel (Carmel Johnson), an overweight carer of the disabled who in many ways resembles Bubby’s mother, reflecting the complex feelings many experience after being abused by their supposed protectors.

This is only one of the film's serious themes. Bad Boy Bubby is a dark comedy, but it is also a study of natural man entering a civilisation defined by the blight of industrialisation and the hypocrisy of its authority figures (the reverse of what happens in the subject of my last review, Let it Come Down).

Nicholas Hope’s performance as Bubby leaves you sure no one else could have realised this challenging character. The supporting roles, particularly those of Bubby’s mother (Claire Benito) and father (Ralph Cotterill), are less convincing. But this is perhaps due more to the pinteresque quality of their scenes—more suited to stage than screen—than their lack of skill as actors.

One or two scenes could have been left out, particularly the one near the end where Bubby’s band-mate explains to him why he shouldn't ‘cling wrap’ people because history proves it’s bad, or something.

All in all, however, this is a bizarre, brave and hilarious film, from the zinger one-liners on tits, God and pizza, to the considered exploration of abuse and recovery.

A film like this could probably not be made in Australia today. Luckily it’s been done already.

What's Good are short reviews of under-appreciated or misunderstood works.


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