As a rule, Hollywood portrays the mentally disabled as quaint, likeable, quirky and entirely benign people who occasionally say the wisest things. No wait, I’m thinking of Australians.
Anyway, if you want to watch both conventions refreshingly shattered, see the Australian indy legend Bad Boy Bubby. It may seem like a Francis Bacon painting brought to life, and you may come very, very close to switching it off but do yourself a favour and give it five minutes. And another five. And another. After the first twenty minutes of horrified fascination, you’ll appreciate the payoff.
‘Bubby’ (Nicholas Hope) has been locked up in a two-room slum for all his 35 years and used as a sex toy by his mother (Claire Benito).
Bubby believes that if he ventures beyond his front door, he will suffocate and die, but when his long-lost father (an alcoholic priest) returns home, he eventually gets out into the real world and discovers it can’t be any worse.
The series of vignettes connect less to form a plot as a journey of discovery. Much of his journey involves the coincidences, symbolism and overtly self-aware characters that only surface in low-budget ‘message films’.
Bubby encounters technology, theology, music and sex in a whirlwind. He is not a passive observer. He actively wants to participate, touch and connect with all he sees. Bubby is a blank slate thrust into the world, attempting to interpret it from a limited and damaged perspective.
Abused and exploited by everyone from feminists to animal lovers, seduced by a Salvation Army girl (Natalie Carr), beaten by policemen, thrown in jail and raped by a prisoner and set upon and kicked by women who think he’s a pervert, Bubby – armed only with the few phrases he’s learnt from his mother – has a tough entry into an inhospitable world. But others soon warm to this innocent idiot savant, and Bubby starts to find a place in the poisoned world from which he was confined.
He makes friends with the members of a pub rock band who turn him loose as their singer and is adopted by a kindly nurse called Angel (Carmel Johnson), who looks after people with severe physical difficulties.
Eventually, Bubby and Angel become lovers. They have children and settle down. Bubby finds a place in the world.
Nicholas Hope is excellent as Bubby. He is convincingly awkward, and if you share Bubby’s fascination with “Great tits . . . great big whoppers of things”, you will enjoy much of this movie. Whereas if you’re a cat lover, you will find it difficult in places. But by the time you reach the ending – with Lisa Gerard beautifully interpreting Handel’s Largo – you will mostly remember the good.
Rolf de Heer