Soderbergh bursts his ‘Bubble’

Oriana Schwindt

I realize director Steven Soderbergh has a lot on his plate this year, what with directing Bubble and executive producing at least five other films.

But what I just don’t understand is the reasoning behind Bubble, which is playing in limited release right now and is already playing on cable and was released on DVD Tuesday. Soderbergh tried this method as a precursor for the potential future of film distribution, when movies can be released simultaneously in all formats.

Soderbergh’s story is almost childlike in its simplicity: Boy works at doll factory. Boy gets daily ride to work from creepy red-headed spinster. New hire and boy hit it off. Someone winds up dead. The cinematography and score mimic the storyline – simple shots and straight-up acoustic guitar.

The very adept, mostly unknown cast features Dustin James Ashley as the doe-eyed, taciturn factory worker Kyle. But the real heavyweight is Debbie Doebereiner as Martha, Kyle’s dull, mindless co-worker. Behind that blank, maddeningly stupid expression there’s a twinge of sadness, a smidge of regret. Not every actress can pull that off, but Doebereiner does.

The writing isn’t a problem; the dialogue is refreshingly realistic, down to the non-committal grunts and the semi-awkward silences. Soderbergh also get points for details like chipped nail polish and poorly applied makeup, as well as the creepy let’s-see-how-dolls-are-made portions.

He just forgot to make the audience care.

The biggest problem with Bubble is that there’s no investment in the characters. Sure, they’re everyday working stiffs in small-town Ohio. Sure, they talk like we do. But there’s no development, with the exception of Martha’s sudden and fleeting bloodlust. He doesn’t give the characters anywhere to go; they’re trapped in a literal and figurative Nowheresville, and the audience is trapped there with them.

– Oriana Schwindt