Steven Soderbergh has hopes to eventually cut the studios out altogether through the emancipatory powers of digital technology. In a decidedly post post-modern way, he has remixed the electronic cinema mantra of Francis Ford Coppola and his oft repeated “dream” of a fat girl in Ohio who will make her own movie and see it distributed around the world. Coppola saw the future too early to really do anything about it, but the future is now the present and directors like Soderbergh are lining up to sound the alarm. An American cinema freed from the corporate shackles of commerce over art? Is it actually possible? Can the “Garage Kubricks” of the world, with their digicams in one hand and iMovies in the other, revolutionize the Hollywood business model?
This is clearly what Soderbergh has in mind with the slate of films he intends to make starting with “Bubble”, the concept of which seems to be an extension of Soderbergh’s recent work for HBO, the Facto-Politico-Fiction series “K Street”. “Bubble” is written by screenwriter Coleman Hough, who seems to have become Soderbergh’s go-to writer for his more “riskier” indie projects ever since “Full Frontal”. Hough was sent on a search for the right American town for the story, and along with Soderbergh picked Belpre , Ohio . The idea was to find a specific place, cast the movie with non-professional locals, and develop the story and characters by blending their real lives in the real town with the fictional elements of a simple, small story.
What they came up with is the story of Martha (Debbie Doebereiner), a seemingly content middle-aged worker in a crumbling doll factory on the outskirts of the slightly crumbling town of Belpre , which is seemingly sucked of life through economic hardship. Martha’s existence has the narcotic bliss of quiet routine, without the fear of sudden change or excitement. She appears to have accepted a somewhat solitary existence, living with and caring for her invalid father and driving a much younger 20-something friend, Kyle (Dustin Ashley), to and from the factory. He seems to be her only friend, and although they share breakfast and lunch, neither says much of consequence to the other, and Martha seems to view him maternally, at least consciously.
This blissful routine is broken up by Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins), a new worker at the factory. A young, attractive single mother, Rose catches the eye of Kyle, who is too withdrawn to act on his feelings. Martha notices the interest and seems quite disturbed by it. So disturbed, she appears to try and reject the disturbance out of hand. However, when Rose asks Kyle out and then gets Martha to baby-sit for her, Martha’s inner world seems to turn inside out, leading to actions unthinkable in her once comfortable and numb existence.
It is this very existence that Soderbergh constructs his film around, and “Bubble” is paced very deliberately, like a slowly dripping faucet. Scenes do not seem to be performed, but rather captured like surveillance videos, and conversations are not played but overheard. Most of the drama comes from the silence in-between; the subtle stares between the characters and the mystery that lies behind their frozen expressions.
Casting the movie among the town’s locals gives “Bubble” the feel of a regional independent movie, like the Pittsburgh of George Romero or the Baltimore of John Waters. Their voices sound authentic and their faces look like a life lived, not observed. Cast a film in Hollywood with a description like, “Attractive single mother” and you’ll get everyone from Julia Roberts to Lindsey Lohan. Here, you get Misty Dawn Wilkins, who actually has a lot of charisma, but isn’t the kind of attractive that would get her into the pages of “Maxim”. She would be more likely to catch your eye if she was in line at the local supermarket.
The final third of “Bubble” becomes a kind of police procedural, but without any melodrama or thrills, merely the simple suspense and fascination of an authentic local police investigation. The casting of Decker Moody, a 24-year veteran of the Parkersburg , West Virginia police force in the role of Detective Don Taylor gives these scenes a feel unlike any TV drama or reality show. He is a calm and dedicated professional who is simply doing his job, and the matter-of-factness of his interrogation at the end of the film is priceless.
I really enjoyed “Bubble”, but it’s clearly not for everyone. It’s meant to be a small art movie and that’s exactly what it is. If you like the films of Terrence Malick or perhaps “All the Real Girls” by David Gordon Green, “Bubble” is cut from the same cloth. Soderbergh has said that he was very influenced by some of the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and “Bubble” would no doubt make a great double feature with that brilliant filmmaker’s 1976 television movie, “I Only Want You to Love Me”. Both films are quiet depictions of deadpan and secretive characters viewed with complete objectivity, and although Soderbergh has a long way to go before he can ever be compared to Fassbinder, “Bubble” is a step in the right direction.
Steven Soderbergh (director) / Coleman Hough (screenplay)
CAST: Debbie Doebereiner …. Martha
Dustin James Ashley …. Kyle
Misty Dawn Wilkins …. Rose
Omar Cowan …. Martha’s Father
Decker Moody …. Detective Don Taylor