A low budget indie film, Bad Boy Bubby’s a very rare case of a film that starts out as a tragedy and ends up a comedy, and this Australian effort from Rolf de Heer is a very strange, very unique film and then some. There are aspects of it that I’m really not impressed by and certain parts left me puzzled, but then other elements are fascinating and it can’t be denied that it led to me laughing out loud at several points.
The first half an hour is a grimy, bleak and depressing affair as we’re introduced to Bubby (Nicholas Hope) and his mother Florence (Claire Benito), with both of them clearly suffering from mental illnesses. Florence has told Bubby that if he leaves their squalid basement flat that he’ll die, that it’s poisonous outside and she only survives as she wears a gas mask every time she leaves the house, and this leaves Bubby as her play thing, something to toy with as she sees fit, and the duo have a very unpleasant incestuous relationship as well.
Everything changes when Bubby’s father, Pop (Ralph Cotterill), turns up after thirty five years absence, posing as a priest, and he’s looking to get back with Florence as he’s down on his luck. They do too, with Pop treating Bubby appallingly, until Bubby snaps and one night when they’re both passed out drunk he kills them both. Whether he really knows what he’s doing is open to question, Bubby is a simplistic individual who’s never really learned how to speak normally, though he has a gift for mimicry and can copy large chunks of what is said to him word for word.
Once Pop and Florence are dead Bubby ventures out in to the outside world to discover that his mother lied to him, and slowly learns about modern day life. This second section is slightly weaker though it definitely becomes funnier as Bubby interacts with a number of people, many of whom either exploit him for sex or treat him as an oddball curiosity, the general gist seeming to be that the manner in which Australians treat those who are mentally ill is horrendously depressing. There’s also some satire of capitalism and a dose of mockery of religion and the penal system, some of which is heavy handed but is mostly amusing.
In the final third Bubby finally meets someone who will take care of him in the guise of Angel (Carmel Johnson), a nurse who looks after those with Motor Neurone Disease and whom Bubby also cares for, plus he joins a band he briefly met earlier on and mimics various bits of dialogue that have been said to him throughout the movie. The band’s a hit and soon people are dressing up like him, which suggests that director Rolf de Heer has a pretty dim view of anyone who becomes obsessive about music, or lead singers who talk a lot of nonsense at least as it’s when Bubby goes on about large breasts that it appears they’re at their most popular.
After dining with them Bubby’s also responsible for the deaths of Angel’s parents, who treated their daughter appallingly but surely didn’t deserve such a fate, even though that’s what’s hinted at, especially as somewhat bizarrely the film has a happy ending, as Bubby and Angel stay together and have offspring, which negates a lot of what’s been suggested before about both how awful life can be and how terribly those with mental illnesses are treated. I suppose it’s offering up both sides of the argument, showing that both good and bad often take place, but it’s an unusual piece of denouement and not one that I’m sure I full buy in to.
The film is at least sympathetic towards Bubby throughout which is incredibly important given that he’s been a victim of such abuse throughout his adult life, and most of the time it is the rich elite who are satirised and shown to be abhorrent. It’s a movie which has a hell of a lot to say as well, and though that middle section feels a bit muddled it’s largely impressive in the manner that it says it. It is a strange, offbeat film then, and one which perplexes on occasion, but though you might not love it once seen it can never be forgotten.