To say that Bubble was made without stars or a big budget is nonsense, since financially and artistically it does not exist without Soderbergh’s Ocean’s wankfests. The film, like Soderbergh’s career as a whole, vexes us with such qualified achievement. Martha and her friend Kyle (so unlike George and Brad) lead credibly soul-sapping lives of toil in Nowheresville. But must Soderbergh have them work in a doll factory, turning out vacant-eyed bubble-skulled babies? Yes, Soderbergh (as “Peter Andrews”) paints some sinus-clearing translucent HD colors, but must he skew older Martha a medium-rare pink, while young Kyle and cute interloper Rose get slacker pallor? Perhaps most importantly, was the only way to find marketable drama in their lives (for debut on HDNet) through a postal-going love-triangle crime?
It’s entirely possible to ignore these problems and appreciate Bubble’s efficient setup and the performances, and flat Midwest affect, of its untrained actors. One could ponder, as Soderbergh does, the puffy face of Martha (Debbie Doebereiner) like weather changes in the sky, or the way Dustin James Ashley as the clinically shy Kyle seems to be peeping through someone else’s eyes. Everyone is given space to maneuver since the camera so often sits planted in the corner of rooms, mid-height. The restless Rose even scratches out some intriguing class friction: she feels a prerogative to take baths (and sometimes more) in the houses she cleans for extra cash, and she provocatively asks fellow workers to baby-sit for her... while she dates Kyle.
But for the free form, Soderbergh pales before a more recent and truer indie avatar, Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha). Despite Bubble’s moments, it never shakes the sense that Soderbergh is working in a compromised shorthand.
Opens January 27 at Landmark Sunshine