Bubble (Magnolia Pictures, R)

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Soderbergh is unable to coax anything resembling a performance from his non-actor cast.



Steven Soderbergh is one of America’s most talked-about directors, revered by many and despised by others because he takes chances. His films are rarely typical. Known as the indie wunderkind that scored big with a huge-budget remake of a Frank Sinatra vehicle, Soderbergh has carved out the niche of being the guy that can work with anyone on any type of project, creating a body of work that varies in tone, style, and success.

Bubble, Soderbergh’s experiment in something resembling cinema verité, is an experiment gone awry. The story is simple: An older woman, Martha (Debbie Doebereiner), and a teenager, Kyle (Dustin James Ashely), are friends due to a long hours working in a small town Midwestern doll factory. Their delicate relationship is disrupted by the arrival of outgoing, vivacious, young Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins) on the assembly line; tensions arise.

The film runs 73 minutes and tries to include a romantic drama, a murder mystery, and a police procedural. None of these three story lines is ever developed. The movie feels as if Soderbergh jumped into a bad endeavor and then just tried to cut bait. The characters and relationships never find roots, much less blossoms. The film’s 73 minutes is burdened with extensive montages showing tedious assembly-line work, including countless shots of baby heads being pulled, glued, and inflated. This does bring the audience into the life of these characters, but with no story or character development, there is no reason for the viewer to sit through the tedium.

Soderbergh is trying two big experiments here: First, he uses non-actors in all the roles and little in the way of professional filmmaking techniques. Although many independent directors do the same thing with varying results; here it fails due to two major gaffes. One, there is no script to speak of. Although the film is credited as written by Coleman Hough, if there was more than a basic idea for scenes, Mr. Hough should turn in his laptop. The scenes are filled with blank pauses that do not reveal, but bore.

The second failing is that Soderbergh is unable to coax anything resembling a performance from his cast. He may have spent too much time working with gifted, high-paid professionals to relate to these blue-collar folks; the film is overrun with acting unacceptable in even a student project. The only exception is Wilkins; although she is not great, she has a bit of presence and is somewhat natural.

The second experiment is in the release of the film. Soderbergh has teamed with rich guy Mark Cuban to try and change the world of cinema by making a film available on DVD, cable television, and in theaters on the same weekend. I have no idea how this will turn out in the long run, but one thing is for sure: Bubble is not an accurate test. It is so bad, few will want to see it on any screen, big or small.

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