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The Independent Critic

Dustin James Ashley, Misty Dawn Wilkins, Debbie Doebereiner
Steven Soderbergh
Coleman Hough
Rated R
73 Mins.
 "Bubble" Review 
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In his first of six low-budget films completed using High Definition Video, Oscar-winning director and all around quirky dude Steven Soderbergh serves up "Bubble," an experiment both financially and in terms of movie production.

"Bubble" is being almost simultaneously on HD Network television, DVD and in movie theatres (actually, the DVD is being released the Tuesday after the film's Friday opening). The film opened on 32 screens nationwide, most of them being part of the Landmark Theatre chain owned by the film's distribution companies, Magnolia and 2929.

I knew I was in trouble as I walked up to the ticket booth and heard a Landmark cashier describing "Bubble" to a potential customer by saying "It's really not very good."

I give her bonus points for honesty.

"Bubble" was filmed by Soderbergh using a cast with no acting experience from the West Virginia/Ohio area in which the film was made. The story by Coleman Hough, who also wrote "Full Frontal," centers around three characters in small-town America.

We have Kyle (Dustin James Ashley), a twentyish young man who lives in a trailer with his mother and who rides to work in a doll factory with Martha (Debbie Doebereiner), a fortyish frumpy woman who takes care of her father and seems quite happy with her simple, blue-collar existence. Their simple, almost hilariously bland friendship is interrupted by the introduction of Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins), an attractive single mother who comes to work at the factory.

A crime takes place, and the guilty party is obvious from point one, despite the presence of Rose's ex-boyfriend the evening of her death. The detective, played by real life Parkersburg, West Virginia detective Decker Moody, offers simple, realistic police work that quickly leads to the guilty party.

At a mere 73 minutes, "Bubble" still at times feels remarkably vacant. We are treated to numerous shots of factory machinery, doll parts and odd, still shots of the small town and one "Full Frontal" inspired church shot of Martha in a church pew with a light shining over her face.

There's something refreshing about this film. I think, perhaps, it's the complete lack of histrionics present in the performances. While I can't picture anyone here quitting their day jobs for a career in film (okay, Wilkins might be able to successfully make a porno film), there's a simple, authentic feeling in their performances that works quite nicely and accurately reflects the bubble in which they live their lives. If death happened in real life the way Hollywood likes to portray it, then death scenes would be filled with hysterical screams, crocodile tears and dramatic monologues. There's none of that present in "Bubble."

Unfortunately, there's not much of anything present in "Bubble." With a minimalist script and actors largely incapable of expressing an emotional range, "Bubble" ends up feeling too empty to hold an audience even for a mere 73 minutes.

The film is salvaged from being a complete failure largely due to the subtle, yet intriguing directing choices by Soderbergh and the somewhat involving performance of Doebereiner, who in real life is general manager for a KFC.

Soderbergh does manage to create multi-layered characters, even with minimal dialogue and not so compelling performances. He throws in touches that show us that nobody here is all bad, certainly nobody is all good and absolutely nobody is who they really seem to be. It is interesting to watch each character make bold observations and judgments only to turn around and betray their own judgments.

One of Wilkins' real life daughters plays her young, two-year-old daughter in the film and, oddly enough, outacts her mom with a certain charm and definite presence.

"Bubble" also includes a rather interesting guitar score by Robert Pollard, formerly the lead singer for indie faves "Guided by Voices."

"Bubble" is an interesting cinematic experiment that works on a certain level and reminds me a bit of another ultra low-budget film I admire, "Maggie and Annie." In most other director's hands, "Bubble" would have been a major disaster. Soderbergh's ability to bring any life at all to a film running 73-minutes using non-actors and a minimalist script is evidence of his true cinematic genius.

That doesn't mean, however, that the experiment ultimately succeeds. It doesn't, and I can't picture it having much life in a movie theatre, on network television or on DVD. It's an interesting experiment, but it is NOT an interesting film.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic