Bubble

Steven Soderbergh’s Bubble (IMDB) has received more attention because of its experimental distribution schedule than because of the film itself, but the film itself is deceptively experimental focusing intimately on the lives of three workers in a small doll factory in a small industrial town on the border of West Virginia and Ohio.

Bubble first introduces us to Martha and Kyle who work together in the doll factory and have cultivated a quiet but grounded friendship, based in part on the daily rituals of driving to work together and sharing a fast food lunch in the factory’s breakroom. Both Martha and Kyle work outside the factory in second jobs to make ends meet, and they sometimes discuss what they would do if they managed to save just a little money. Their routine is subtly but inevitably interrupted when the factory hires a new employee, Rose, a single mother in her early twenties. When Rose is introduced to the small group of workers (maybe 5 ot 6 people) in the doll factory, her brief smile at Kyle indicates her attraction to him. As Ebert points out, it’s unclear whether Kyle returns Rose’s acknowledgement, but Martha sees the smile and begins to see her relationship to Kyle change. Martha’s “loss” of Kyle (they remain friends but their friendship, and Kyle’s reliance on Martha, is what changes) is also measured by the lunch breaks in which Rose and Kyle share a cigarette at the end of the meal in a spearate section of the breakroom. Soderbergh’s camera emphasizes how this subtle act not only changes Martha and Kyle’s daily routine but also how it begins to create some distance between them, physiaclly and emotionally.

Rose also becomes representative of an independence unavailable to Martha and Kyle. Her second job entails cleaning wealthy people’s houses, where she takes bubble baths in their tubs, reasoning that she doesn’t have that luxury in her apartment, with Rose’s free-spiritedness prompting Martha to comment, “I don’t know about her.” Eventually Kyle asks Rose on a date, with Rose, in turn, asking Martha to babysit her daughter, setting up a scene of profound awkwardness when the three of them are forced to interact in Rose’s apartment, building towards an act of violence that is somewhat shocking although it is certainly consistent with the emotions of the film’s central characters.

Soderbergh, along with screenwriter Coleman Hough (who also worked with Soderbergh on Full Frontal), sets the tone for this kind of story very effectively. The doll factory itself allows for some slightly uncanny imagery, with Kyle pouring pastic into the leg and head molds, while Rose and Martha airbrush identical faces on rows of these cheap plastic dolls (Filmbrain describes the creepiness of the doll factory rather well). The featureless breakroom, which looks like it could have been decorated anytime in the last thirty years, the fast food restaurants that provide daily nourishment, and the mobile homes and apartments all suggest a sense of routine or monotony.

Using these characters, Soderbergh has created a quiet, intimate portrait of small-town, southern life, a world that Soderbergh knows well, as Michael Atkinson points out. Because the film is simultaneously available on DVD and in theaters, it will be interesting to see what kind of reception it receives (and whether the site of reception matters in terms of audience response), but the film does offer one of the more interesting character studies I’ve seen in some time.

2 Comments »

  1. Laurie Lee Said,

    February 6, 2006 @ 9:29 pm

    Hi Chuck
    I enjoyed reading your blog concerning Steven Soderberghs ‘Bubble’. As an actor in the movie it was especially appealing to me and I am glad that you found the film interesting. I would like to invite you to view the website of the Lee Middleton Doll Factory.
    http://www.leemiddleton.com/
    The factory itself can be an eerie place but the dolls themselves are quite beautiful and there are many people who enjoy collecting them.
    Laurie Lee

  2. Chuck Said,

    February 7, 2006 @ 1:05 am

    Hi Laurie. Thanks for stopping by. It must be pretty rewarding to see a film in which you were a particpant getting so many good reviews. I may have overstated the eerieness factor a little, or maybe the eerieness derived from the dolls’ intriguing appearance. There’s certainly a lot of craft involved, and in a weird way, the doll factory reminded me a little of the “Cabbage Patch” doll factory I toured when I was a kid, back in Georgia.

    The dolls are, of course, quite different, so I’m not sure I’d be able to explain the connection…

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