The Boy in the Plastic Bubble is often remembered as the gloriously dated disease-of-the-week movie from the 1970s -- the first feature-length vehicle for John Travolta, made for the medium of television, where he was the breakout star of Welcome Back Kotter. But it's also the only produced feature-length teleplay by noted film critic Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal. Well, neither needs to be embarrassed, as The Boy in the Plastic Bubble contains a surprising amount of nuance. Travolta doesn't play Tod Lubitsch as a saint, but perhaps more importantly, nor does Morgenstern (with Douglas Day Stewart) write him that way. Travolta combines with Glynnis O'Connor to make a charmingly gawky pair of believable teenagers, who don't always do or say the right things. What's great about O'Connor's performance is that she's one of the popular girls, but doesn't use that as an excuse to make Gina an aloof caricature -- she's just a normal girl with equal parts mischief and goodness. Travolta's work is good as well, but it's difficult to determine how much like a real life-long shut-in he is. It's tempting to hope a person in his position would remain generally upbeat, but since the disease is so rare, it's hard to say for sure. Not only does the film work as a soulful consideration of the sacrifices of living without immunities, but on a purely logistical level, it's also a how-to manual, satisfying our curiosity about the day-to-day routines of a seemingly impossible life. If any part of The Boy in the Plastic Bubble gives pause, it's the ending. Generously, it's lyrical; more honestly, it's probably just cheesy. But chalking that up to the era as well makes it easier to swallow, and truly, this film about quarantined solitude is a breath of fresh air.
by Derek Armstrong review