Friday, January 19, 2007

Review: Bubble

An HDNet Films release 2006
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Coleman Hough

Set against the backdrop of a decaying Midwestern town, a murder becomes the focal point of three people who work in a doll factory.

Soderbergh found his roots in independent cinema, producing a decade's worth of low-budget, high-concept films before settling into the studio system with star-riddled affairs like Erin Brokovitch, Traffic, and Ocean's Eleven. Bubble, billed as the latest "Soderbergh experience", is a bi-product of his studio works; a pet project that was funded by his big budget efforts. It is of some note because it was the first film to employ the simultaneous multiple distribution platform, a unique way of mass-releasing a film through theatrical, DVD, and cable on-demand all on the same date. Whether that business tactic has paid off is yet to be seen; only a handful of other films (including Caveh Zahedi's autobiographical I Am A Sex Addict and Winterbottom's docu-drama The Road to Guantanamo) have followed suit, and frankly I don't know too many people who have seen (or heard of) any of them. However, as a film, Bubble is an experiment that falls short of the mark in many ways.

Set in a decrepit West Virginia town, the film follows three dirt poor employees of a doll factory who become involved in a murder. The story is simple, and handled in a simple way - shot on DV, the film has this average, everyday life aesthetic. Following with that aesthetic, Soderbergh decided to cast non-actors in the roles, adding a (somewhat) refreshing sense of realism. The actors are fine, and actually give pretty solid performances, however one can't but feel that Soderbergh spent a lot of his time worrying about their chops than about his camera. For DV, the film looks great, but the camera work is insipid and uninspired. There are many flat, stoic shots, and some minor attempts at Godardian style pans that don't really work.

The title, Bubble, has many implications that go unrecognized throughout the film. A bubble, of course, is an enclosure, and the story presents multiple layers of contextualized 'bubbles', from the settings to the characters states of being. Soderbergh recognizes the themes, but refuses to work with them, focusing rather on the simplicity of the story and it's averageness. This is fine, but it makes for a very average movie. The main point of conflict doesn't come until near the end, and it's hard to take it seriously because the characters are presently so flatly.

Soderbergh is nominated for a Spirit Award in the category of Best Director for this film. Frankly, I think Soderbergh is the reason this film doesn't work. I have to commend him for his inspiring business tactics and indie aesthetic, but over-simplification can be a bad thing. Ultimately, the film has some fleeting moments of greatness (when Martha is inside the large home, for example) but over all it is a dulled down affair.

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