Watching Bel Powley break free from her single-room existence in the coming-of-age werewolf drama Wildling brought to mind this trio of trapped teen tales.
The Boy in the Plastic Bubble
Randal Kleiser’s The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976)
Your basic after-school-special-done-good follows the true-life story of Tod Lubitch (John Travolta), a boy born without an immune system and forced to live his life inside a sterile, polyethylene-wrapped room. (The earnest Lubitch is only allowed outdoors when encased in a glass terrarium strapped atop a gurney, or later, a special getup that appears to have been designed by Frederick’s of NASA.) Released between Welcome Back Kotter and Carrie, this made-for-TV drama was a prime motivator in Travolta’s meteoric rise. (Spelling-Goldberg Productions went so far as striking 16mm prints of the well-intentioned tear-jerker for classroom distribution.) Glynnis O’Connor co-stars as the girl next door, with Robert Reed trying hard to be a better father to a bubble than he was to a Brady. The film is best viewed today through satirically contemptuous eyes. Having landed in the public domain, the 1080p pressing available on YouTube is far superior to the DVD copy currently playing at dollar store near you.
Trailer for Bubble Boy
Blair Hayes’ Bubble Boy (2001)
Combine the unintentionally hilarious moments from Travolta’s Plastic Bubble and Tod Browning’s Freaks — a legit horror classic that continues to make generations squirm over 80 years after its release — and what do you get? A crater left at the box office. In his follow-up film to Donnie Darko, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jimmy Livingstone, the polypropylene kid who, unlike real-life counterpart Tod Lubitch, devises a way to leave the house and embark on a journey that’s best described as a live-action cinematoon. Jimmy’s goal is twofold: first, get out from under the talons of as his devout, god-fearing, anti-Semite of a mom, played to perfection by Swoosie Kurtz, and second, to stop the girl of his dreams (Marley Shelton) from getting hitched. Jimmy gathers about him a band of “freaks” — everyone from noblemen Danny Trejo and John Carroll Lynch to the late Verne Troyer and pinhead performance artist Lester “Beetlejuice” Green. Easily offended members of the P.C. police were up in arms over what they saw, but were it up to me, this — not that pinheaded The Room — would be playing midnight shows at the Ken.
Trailer for Midnight Sun
Scott Speer’s Midnight Sun (2018)
I had one film under my belt and a hankering to make it a double-feature. With sun was about to set on Midnight Sun, I checked into the last screening on the last day of its theatrical run, half-expecting to make an early exit. It’s kismet, I tell you, like toys of destiny drawn together! The first thing that hits you is the color, a stylistic choice generally left unconsidered when one is trading in such movie-of-the-weak material as a young woman (Bella Thorne) with a rare disease that transforms even so much as a ray of sunlight into a lethal ponaird. But color is essential to photographing Thorne, her generation’s answer to “Technicolor Tessie.” Allowed outdoors at night, and then only with the permission of her dotingly dopey dad (funnyman Rob Riggle, knowing when not to break character), she takes up residence at the local train station, serenading homeward-bound commuters. There, she encounters romance in the form of Patrick Schwarzenegger. A romance that holds the cheese, coming soon to a Redbox near you!