Bubble

"Bad"

Bubble Review


Ordinarily, Steven Soderbergh is on par with today's brightest directors. But in his most recent, the low-budget indie Bubble, he's got nothing on his mind but an automaton-like impulse to film and cut images until he's arrived at what feels vaguely like an ending. There is no indication, neither in Coleman Hough's hollow script nor in Soderbergh's minimalist aesthetic, of any thematic inquiry into human nature, behavior, or the interrelationships that generally give stories their essence.

In a non-descript American wasteland, dotted with tract housing and factories, we find the warm, plump-featured Martha (Debbie Doebereiner). When she isn't taking care of her doddering father (Omar Cowan), she's tinkering away at the local doll factory. Her factory co-worker, Kyle (Dustin James Ashley), a dopey, listless teenager, is her only semblance of a friend. But, from the looks of it, Kyle would much rather be smoking a fatty in his bedroom than chitchatting with the quaint and middle-aged Martha.

Their friendship lacks any chemistry, any motive to actually exist, other than enabling their co-dependent routine of eating junk food, schlepping away at the factory, and sharing rides to and from work. But when pretty, pouty-lipped, single mother Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins) arrives, Martha finds her drab but comfortable cycle suddenly broken. Soon, Rose and Lyle develop a rapport causing Martha to fume mightily underneath her composed façade. But, as jealous and suspicious as Martha is of her, she consents to babysit Rose's daughter one night while Rose and Lyle spend some quality time together. The night ends, though, when Jake, the deadbeat father to Rose's daughter, barges into Rose's apartment and Martha finds herself in the midst of a heated quarrel between the ex-lovers. The following morning, Rose is found murdered and Martha's named the prime suspect. Stunned and bewildered, Martha denies the accusation.

This is where we'd expect Bubble to dig in and ask the big questions -- to assay the nature of friendship, fate, and guilt (Dancer In the Dark, anyone?). But Soderbergh shies away from every opportunity to delve deeper into this territory, to unearth his characters' mysteries, their secrets. Let it be known that none of Bubble's flaws lie with its non-professional cast; after all, many directors have ably and effectively used non-actors in the service of greater personal themes. But, aside from a couple of surreal interludes in which Soderbergh posits Martha as a saintly figure -- similar but not nearly as compelling as von Trier's deluded but pure-of-heart Bess in Breaking the Waves -- there's not a scrap of a provocative idea anywhere in Bubble's bleak landscape.

And speaking of landscape, Soderbergh's vision of Middle America is upsettingly clichéd and reductive. Hardly a scene goes by that his characters aren't chowing down junk food at a fast-food joint. They speak in monosyllabic or dispirited mumbles, and seem hardly aware of anything beyond their own harsh provincialism. Since the Coens' comic but sympathetic portrayal of Midwesterners in Fargo, Hollywood has been trying to leach all it can from ridiculing rural America's culture and patois. I'd expect a lesser director to dip into that parched well (e.g. the tedious Milwaukee, Minnesota), but Soderbergh -- given his ambition and reputation -- should've known better, should've aimed higher. His story provides such fertile ground for revealing drama, but Bubble contents itself with white-trash tropes.

Does Bubble's stripped-down minimalism mean to underscore the cruel simplicity of its characters' fates, the "bubble" of their closely circumscribed existence? Who knows, but, given the frustrating shallowness of Soderbergh's telling, the real answer is: Who cares? Capping it off is Robert Pollard's acoustic guitar score. Strident and repetitive, its effect is not unlike a hammer struck repeatedly to the brain, and serves only to accentuate the director's simplistic, staggeringly clueless approach to this material. Ultimately it will be remembered only as a failed business experiment -- it's being released simultaneously in theaters and on DVD -- than as a failed artistic one.

Bubble head.



Bubble

Facts and Figures

Run time: 73 mins

In Theaters: Friday 27th January 2006

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5

IMDB: 6.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer:

Contactmusic


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