In truth, it's hard not to laugh at poor Jimmy Livingston, the teenage hero and title character of Bubble Boy. As played in wonderfully slap-happy fashion by Jake Gyllenhaal, Jimmy is simply a funny kid. Sure, he's got problems. His body has no built in immunities, so he can't step outside the room-sized plastic bubble he lives in, for fear that one tiny germ will enter his body and kill him. Or so says his mother (Swoosie Kurtz), who has taught him everything she thinks he needs to know.

And that's little Jimmy's second big problem. His mom is one twisted sister. Vowing that Jimmy will 'always stay pure'--in body and mind--she makes up stories about her heroes (Jesus, the Pope and Ronald Reagan rate high among them) and tells any fib that will keep her Jimmy away from the evil world and its evil people. When Jimmy finally meets Chloe (Marley Shelton), the girl of his wet dreams (yes, the goings-on in that bubble get quite explicit), he calls her, as Mom has, 'the whore next door.' Chloe smiles, 'No, more like a bitch, actually.'

As fond of Jimmy as she is, the nubile Chloe knows she can't have a normal relationship with him, so she decides to run off to Niagara Falls to marry some clueless loser. But before she goes, Chloe hints broadly that she really does love Jimmy every bit as much as he loves her. That's all he needs to hear; against impossible odds, Jimmy vows to stop Chloe's marriage. Slipping into his portable bubble (with its own oxygen supply, detox envelope, etc.), Jimmy sneaks out of the house and hits the road.

As this innocent-abroad-in-a-bubble rolls, bounces and floats his way across the country, he falls in with--and eventually foils--quite a number of weirdos who threaten to impede his progress. First there's the busload of peppy, preppy, always singing young people who belong to a religious cult called Bright and Shiny. Then there's Slim (Danny Trejo), a grizzled biker who empathizes with Jimmy's search for his lost love and vows to help him. Next come the cast of a carnival freak show run by an evil midget, Dr. Phreak (Verne Troyer), followed by the gentle, turban-wearing Pushpak (Brian George), who sells ice cream out of a van which is so gaily adorned with Hindi religious symbols it could pass for a mobile shrine. Finally, Jimmy latches onto a pair of octogenarian twins, Pappy and Pippy (Patrick Crenshaw), who, along with all the others--now joined by Jimmy's mom and dad (a wickedly self-effacing John Carroll Lynch)--decide to chase and/or follow Bubble Boy to Niagara Falls.

This odd, wacky movie cannot be accused of pandering to political correctness. But it in no way could prove insulting to the people who actually suffer from the rare affliction Jimmy supposedly has, so the idea that someone has launched organized protests on their behalf is almost as funny as the movie itself. Bubble Boy just wouldn't understand that. For despite what his mother taught him, despite the evil and injustice he encounters in the world, little Jimmy Livingston is kind and understanding and tolerant of others. That's the moral. And it may be all the more effective when wrapped up in a few silly laughs.

--Shirley Sealy