Review by Beth Gilligan
Posted on 27 September 2005
Source Magnolia Pictures 35mm print
Features: The 43rd New York Film Festival
Whatever one may think of Steven Soderbergh’s talent, his career is inarguably one of the most fascinating in Hollywood. Not only has he directed a staggeringly diverse array of films over the past fifteen years, but he has also served as writer, editor, producer, and director of photography (under the name Peter Andrews) on many of them. Despite famously declaring “it’s all downhill from here” upon collecting the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his debut feature, sex, lies, and videotape, he continues to charge ahead of his peers, embracing the newest technology, experimenting with different modes of distribution, casting non-professional actors, financing (through his production company, Section 8) the work of other filmmakers, and balancing the commercial demands of Hollywood with his seemingly unyielding desire to explore the medium in all its forms.
His latest effort, Bubble, is the first movie of a proposed six-film series that will be shot in different areas of the country using non-professional actors, DV cameras and a 10-12 person crew. Despite having been dubbed one of the director’s “experimental” ventures, it is both accessible and deeply compelling.
Filmed on the border of West Virginia and Ohio, the movie follows the lives of three employees at a doll-making factory. Martha, a woman in her forties whose life outside the factory is largely consumed by the care of her elderly father, considers Kyle, a handsome but deeply shy co-worker in his early twenties, to be her best friend. While the feeling may not be entirely mutual, Kyle seems to enjoy her company, but becomes easily distracted with the arrival of a new employee, a young single mother named Rose. Sensing the dynamics of her friendship with Kyle shifting and finding herself increasingly distrustful of Rose, Martha’s fragile veneer begins to crumble, and she finds herself in the middle of a violent, unexpected event.
Like Aki Kaurismaki’s The Match Factory Girl, which Soderbergh has cited as an influence for this film, Bubble is a slow burn culminating in a punch to the gut. And as in the Kaurismaki film, it is the events leading up to the action that deliver the most. Using a series of long shots, Soderbergh pays careful attention to the characters’ surroundings, from the yellow-lit factory to the drab fast-food restaurants and cramped homes. The tedium of their labor is emphasized, as are their economic struggles, with frequent (yet not overstated) references made to their difficulties in saving money and making ends meet.
Although the characters’ reactions throughout the film are distinctly muted, there is nevertheless an undercurrent of deep emotion running through it. While the performances are occasionally uneven, Debbie Doebereiner, who was discovered by the film’s casting director while working at a drive-thru window at Kentucky Fried Chicken, delivers a pitch-perfect turn as Martha, whose initially opaque facial expression gives way to hurt, jealousy, anger, love, and denial. While Bubble ultimately doesn’t quite live up to these epic themes (clocking in at 72 minutes, it leaves you wanting more), it nevertheless proves an exciting showcase for a director who continues to hit his stride but refuses to coast along.