I am sure my love for the experimental in filmmaking has come through on more than one occasion here on the blog, just as my adoration for Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience, however, I for some reason had managed to completely overlook his earlier work Bubble for quite some time, which is a minor tragedy because the film is incredibly profound and quite intense. As Soderbergh often does, Bubble dances very eerily between the world of documentary non-fiction and cinematic fiction, considering that it is an artistic film that happens to incorporate everything one demarcates as being cinematically sound. The film is at once both absurdist theatre and tragic reality, but exists in such a vacuum of immediacy that one finds the ending emerging while still trying to comprehend the films opening scenes. It is hard not to quickly place a film like Bubble in with the works of Dogme 95, however, where this movement pushes towards conceptualizations of filmmaking over what is being said, Soderbergh simply enjoys making experiential pieces, in which what is being said, as well as how it is being said play equal parts in the manifestation of his often eccentric and dark social commentaries. Bubble is beautiful in its starkness and watchable in the far off possibility that something this bizarre could indeed occur.
Bubble centers on life in an unspecified American factory town, in which everyone is working class. The narrative focuses specifically on Martha (Debbie Doebereiner) an overweight woman, who occasionally offers unwanted opinions to those around her between spraying eyes and lips onto dolls. She serves as a chaffier and voluntary maternal figure to Kyle (Dustin James Ashley) a overworked young man who takes on the burden of a sick mother and the bills in what appears to be a single parent household. Thingis in Martha and Kyle's world are not inspiring by any means and are, in fact, rather dull until the factory hires a new girl named Rose (Misty Wilkins) who instantly becomes the point of affection for Kyle, desite Martha's rather blatant misgivings. Despite her concerns, Rose and Kyle go out on a date to a local bar, only for the two to return Kyle's place for a bit of chit-chat, all the while Martha has been stuck wathing Martha's kid from another relationship. While returning it becomes clear that Rose is being followed by an ex-boyfriend who confronts he after Kyle's departure an act that occurs in front of Martha, who tries to put in her two cents before going home for the night. The next day brings shock as it is discovered that Rose is dead. All roads appear to lead to either Kyle, or Rose's pothead ex-boyfriend, however, as the filmmaker would have it, another character emerges in the last moments that completely undermine the entire set of assumptions
The honesty in Bubble is almost impossible to watch, whether it be the stagnant camera or the monotonous tones of the actors, everything in the film adds to the droning nature of the narrative. Furthermore, a film that outright claims to be a crime story, spends a considerable amount of time focusing on the introduction and going-ons of the characters, particularly the inner-turmoil of Martha who is shown in church as well as engaged in longing gazes directed towards Kyle and his new female friend. Soderbergh, in a moment of either accident or brilliance, incorporates images of working class identity has the characters continually drinking and eating from fast food chains, implying a general lack of physical health, which will in turn drastically affect mental health within the film's world. Furthermore, the lines delivered clearly have a forcedness to them, but not in an obnoxious way, but in a manner to add validity to what is being said, considering that in the narratives of reality one is constantly at a loss for words. This loss of voice is quite important to a film like Bubble in that so much of it is awkward pauses between characters, are real occurrence yet it rarely happens in a cinematic piece, even one with a decidedly indie or cinema veritae feel. Not to mention this film does a lot with gender, religion and escapism as they relate to working class America.
Key Scene: The moment with Martha in church is human tragedy on a poetic level.
Bubble, like many of the director's films, is currently on Netflix Watch Instantly and is well worth one's time to check out. It is a complete reconceptualizing of crime thrillers and a success in "big-budget" experimental film.