Steven Soderbergh has a very interesting filmography. He’s a man who certainly is not afraid to branch out and either direct or produce alternative projects. For every mainstream film he’s directed such as Traffic or Eric Brockovich, he’s gone out and produced an array of films that are certainly “outside the box” when it comes to marketing. He’s produced films such as Naqoyqatsi, which I own but haven’t watched and to my understanding it’s a series of clips set to a score by Phillip Glass, and other films such as Full Frontal and Bubble.
In Bubble, the audience follows the character Martha, played by newcomer Debbie Doebereiner, as she runs through her daily routine of waking up in a lonely house located in a very secluded town and going about her daily routines. We also follow her to her job at a factory where she helps produce toy dolls. Martha usually keeps to herself but has developed a long-time friendship with a fellow employee, Kyle, played by Dustin Ashley. Everything is running in regular fashion when suddenly the factory hires a new employee. The newly hired Rose, played by Misty Wilkins, is learning the ropes with the help of Kyle and the two start to take a liking for one another. Martha feels betrayed. Her one loyal friend is slowly being taken away from her. As the days go on and Martha keeps on noticing change, an tragic event takes place and Rose is nowhere to be found. For the remainder of the movie, the audience follows the mystery of what happened, how this event unfolded, and who should the finger be pointed at.
Compared to the director’s previous work, Bubble is a low budget film that is part of a series of films that Soderbergh refers to as “a Steven Soderbergh experience” where he takes inexperienced actors or unknown locals to which he keeps them on a very long, slack filled, leash. To my understanding there is a script but improv is greeted happily during the production. The films are shot on digital cameras so they have a very distinctive feel to them and the films are usually budgeted in a very cheap fashion. Bubble is an amazing example of how this new approach to this medium has marvelous results. Soderbergh certainly knows how to direct his actors. Even though these people have had slim to no experience in front of a camera, everyone acts vulnerable and nails their role perfectly. Big hats off to Debbie Doebereiner who takes a role that could be played in a very cliched manner and makes the character her own by adding her personality to the character as well as a hint of a haunting persona. Aside from the wonderful acting, Steven Soderbergh knows how to create a very distinctive feel to this movie. By using digital cameras, the High Definition format adds a creative vision that shows just how “real” a situation is. Every little detail, every little blemish is shown on an actors face and every little marking in the old factory is apparent. Soderbergh wants to show the reality of a situation instead of sugarcoating it and I think he really nailed this concept with this approach. Also, the film looks great in its high definition performance. In a period where shooting in HD was slowly being introduced, Soderbergh and his DP really know how to handle the technology. I was really blown away by how skillfully the director is able to make tension rise with very subtle techniques. For example, in a scene where Rose and another man are fighting and name calling in front of Martha, the way the scene is shot, directed, acted, edited, everything is raising the stakes in the scene. As the couple name-calls and we see Martha’s distressed and confused emotion, we the viewers are on the edge of our seats trying to figure out how the scene will end. This scene and many more are great examples of how this movie does a wonderful job with building tension in such a laid back, secluded town.
When Bubble was first released, it was able to be viewed in theaters, on DVD, and on HDNET Movies, a Pay-Per-View-like channel. That’s right, to my memory, this is the first film to expedite this releasing experiment. I have no idea if this ended up hurting Bubble money-wise but it was a great way to get as many people to see this little-movie-that-could. The pacing may not be for everyone and it may not grasp the average joe who constantly wants explosions in order to feel peril. However, if you want a movie that is a spectacular, down to earth portrayal of a small town as well as its community that turns into a really cool, nail-biter as it progressively gets more and more mysterious, keep an open mind and give Bubble a shot. I love the hell out of this Soderbergh experience. A spectacular slice of lo-fi perfection.