- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

Steven Soderbergh begins his attempt to change the way we see movies — releasing them on cable, DVD and in theaters simultaneously — with a film starring an overweight woman the producers discovered at a Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-through window.

“Bubble” could be the least commercial film released in recent memory, and that may be one of several points Mr. Soderbergh is trying to raise: Artists shouldn’t be straitjacketed by marketing plans when unfurling their cinematic visions.

Ego can be as self-destructive as any addiction, but Mr. Soderbergh has the talent to ride said ego to his heart’s content. With “Bubble,” that means rummaging through a Middle America where dreams aren’t just deferred, they’re put on hold indefinitely.

Shot on high definition video for a budget that likely wouldn’t cover Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible III” per diem, “Bubble” follows an unlikely love triangle set in the most depressing of environs.

Middle-aged Martha (Debbie Doebereiner) spends her days toiling in an Ohio doll factory and her nights tending to her elderly father. Her sole consolation is Kyle (Dustin James Ashley), a withdrawn co-worker whose life is equally drab. The two share the kind of friendship forged when no other options are available. That changes when young Rose (Misty Wilkins) joins the doll factory crew. She and Kyle quickly seek out each other, setting Martha’s teeth on edge. The older woman isn’t simply jealous, although boy is she ever. Rose is a thief, and her intentions vis a vis Kyle arouse Martha’s maternal instincts.

When the triangle constricts, the film becomes a whodunit in which everyone knows the culprit but will want to witness the confession.

Even Mr. Soderbergh’s detractors will marvel at the range needed to coordinate the glossy, star-drenched “Oceans Twelve” one minute, then craft a tiny experiment like “Bubble” the next.

An excursion into K-mart realism by a doubly elite director — commercial and avant-garde — “Bubble” is bound to provoke cries of condescension. But the director neither romanticizes nor demonizes his white working-poor characters.

The actors here aren’t professional actors at all, they’re regular Joes and Janes hired specifically for the film. The dialogue, partly improvised, lets them attack the material with some spontaneity.

Coleman Hough’s minimalist script extends sympathy to the key players but also doesn’t cut them any breaks. Martha won’t get any thinner on the steady diet of junk food she calls lunch, and Rose’s financial pickle is directly connected to having an out-of-wedlock child.

Later, when we watch Martha ogle an upper-scale home from the inside, the disparity between those of means and others living from paycheck to paycheck pops from the screen.

Mr. Soderbergh shot “Bubble” as if all he cared about was getting the action within the frame. He’s apparently saving his slick tracking shots for other projects.

“Bubble” opens with a backhoe overturning a patch of land, an in-your-face metaphor for the director’s bigger picture — he’s trying to uproot both the way we consume movies and how studios distribute them. “Bubble” does represent fresh ground, but not for those obvious reasons. It provides a glimpse of a segment of society rarely seen on-screen.

***

TITLE: “Bubble”

RATING: R (Violence, drug use and adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Written by Coleman Hough. Music by Robert Pollard.

RUNNING TIME: 72 minutes

WEB SITE: www.bubblethefilm.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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