Simplicity can sometimes trump all. And that is how director Steven Soderbergh has triumphed with perhaps the most true to life film I have ever seen. Bubble is simple in nearly every aspect—from the story, to the dialog, to the camera angles, and even to the acting. Thus, we are drawn in as an audience to how eerily realistic the lives and conversations of the characters are.
I must make a confession before I go any further. Bubble was filmed entirely in and around my hometown of Parkersburg, West Virginia. There are buildings I have seen many times, bridges I had driven across for over twenty years, restaurants I have eaten in, and a doll factory for which I toured as a child (and in which my daughter receives a gift from her grandparents every birthday). Obviously, this film hits home very dearly.
Putting bias aside, the entire concept of the film is breathtaking. For starters, Soderbergh chose to use local residents as actors. Upon casting, Debbie Doebereiner (Martha) was a local KFC manager, Dustin Ashley (Kyle) a high school dropout, and Misty Wilkins (Rose) a hair stylist at a local salon. The beauty is that throughout the film the actors often make mistakes in their dialog. This is important to me, because too often lines in a film sound too perfect. In every day life we struggle to say stuff. We jumble our words—we say the wrong things—we stutter—and we most definitely have long pauses and uncomfortable silences in our conversations. Despite these imperfections, there is something very special in the sincerity of the characters—three people etched in our minds well after the credits roll.
As for the story, Kyle and Martha are workers at a local doll factory. They are buddies in the sense that they spend day after day together. “You’re my bestest friend. I need to get a picture of you,” says Martha as they grab donuts and coffee on the way to work. Martha picks Kyle up each morning from his tiny trailer which he shares with only his mother. The catch is that the two of them are so different in most aspects (including age). Kyle is a young, shy modest man, while Martha is somewhat older and spends her nonworking hours caring for her elderly father. An odd couple indeed, there is a sense that maybe Martha sees Kyle as something more desirable. But that is left for the viewers to distinguish. In reality, the only thing that brings them together is their job at the factory.
It is the factory itself that produces near haunting images. For example, the footage of the life cycle of the creation of a baby doll is captured. The innocence of the dolls is often creepy, with scenes of the individual parts coming together to create what is, in essence, a child’s toy. In the film, the workers go through their normal, monotonous every day routines. They wake up, go to work, perform their tasks, eat lunch in the break room, smoke a cigarette outside, go back to their tasks, and go home to their average, mundane households.
Sounds boring right? The astonishment is that Bubble is anything but, as Soderbergh captures the spirits of these characters through the looks in their eyes and the realism of their motions. This comes even truer to fruition as a third party is introduced to the mix. Rose is an attractive single mother to whom Kyle is immediately drawn. Martha feels immediately threatened. Rose is brought in to the factory because she has airbrushing experience at the local mall. She connects with Martha and Kyle in the sense that they have little choice but to get to know each other (they live in a bubble, so to speak). Those with similar jobs know that although you may not have much in common with your co-workers, it is necessary to search for friendship in order to avoid complete misery at work.
The story develops into a sort of triangle between the characters involved. When Martha agrees to baby-sit one night for Rose the shift in the direction of the film begins to unfold. We begin to question the sanity of each character as well. One is a thief, one is overzealous but tries to hide emotions, and the other is lost in a world of repetition despite seeming like an intelligent mind. Each seems vulnerable to breaking down emotionally, but each seems to have dreams of better lives. There are other characters involved, including a police detective (played by Parkersburg’s real life detective of nearly 25 years--Decker Moody). The end result is a murder investigation that leaves us guessing to the end.
I have yet to even touch on the controversy of the release schedule in which Soderbergh has undertaken. The film is the first of six that the director has agreed to make for HDNet Films. The oddity is that the movie premiered for the first time in theaters this past month and was released on DVD just a few days later. It also has been aired on cable and is available for download online.
The theory is that smaller independent releases may become more successful under this pattern. Since the films are often shown on very few screens across the country, this could be a way for more people to get immediate access. Unfortunately, many theater chains have refused to show the film in protest.
For those that want action and traditional, commercial bull crap out of their movie experience, Bubble may not be for you. I suggest opening your eyes and ears to the movement and speech of the characters. Do this with an open mind and you will be pleasantly surprised at how similar the encounters are to real life. In many ways, by getting lost in the moment, it feels like you are actually in the room with these characters. Furthermore, the film reminds me of people I have actually encountered in my lifetime more than anything I can recall. A catchy methodical guitar score adds tremendous definition to the film as well. Soderbergh, a mastermind in Hollywood, has created a magnificent piece of artwork. And the most inspiring feat is that he has done it by keeping things simple.
Obviously, taking a limited budget into account, I wasn’t expecting too much out of the special features for the Bubble DVD. But what jumps out immediately is the way we as viewers are able to get a detailed account into the lives of the three main stars. This is captured extensively in “Bursting the Bubble: The Real Lives of the Actors.”
The neatest thing for me was seeing more scenery of places I know well. There is even a shot of Point Park on the Ohio River with the flood wall that reads in large letters “Welcome to Parkersburg, W.Va.” Cameras basically catch up with the stars and follow them around to get a firsthand look at a day in the lives of Wilkins, Ashley and Doebereiner. Wilkins is depicted with her two children as well as footage of her at the beauty parlor, Ashley shows his tattoos and explains their significance, and Doebereiner goes back to KFC to see former employees. It further explains the bond of friendship that was developed for the cast. The most encouraging aspect is seeing how three normal lives were given an opportunity that dreams are made of.
The “Finding the Cast” feature is taped interviews of the three stars. Questions about their lives, where they see themselves in five years and what they think of living in Parkersburg are the gist of this piece. Good stuff here, as it gives some intuition into the minds of these actors before they were even rewarded with the roles.
The following feature on the disc is “HDNet’s Higher Definition: Highlights from the Interview with Steven Soderbergh.” Here, Soderbergh outlines the premise of this unique style of filmmaking and the odd release format that it entails. He then takes a minute to reflect on how the story of Bubble developed.
Other features include a Bubble still gallery, a Bubble trailer that is quite interesting (although it shows no footage of the film whatsoever) to say the least, and two separate commentary versions of the film (one with with Actors Dustin Ashley, Debbie Doebereiner, Misty Wilkins & Writer Coleman Hough, and the other with Director Steven Soderbergh & Mark Romanek).
Finally, there is a deleted scene with an alternate ending. Although the actual conclusion of the film isn’t necessarily changed—what it does involve are a few more minutes of footage and in a slightly different order. This is basically the last six minutes or so of the film that goes in greater depth about the unstable mind of one of the characters. That’s about all I can say about that without leaking too much information. I actually wish this longer version on the film’s conclusion would have been installed.
With the right amount of special features and a glimpse into the minds and lives of three normal, yet extraordinary, people—Bubble is as close to a must own DVD as exists. The movie itself truly is groundbreaking in style, format and theory. The special features help shed light on how this new way of promoting and approaching independent films can work.