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With: Dustin James Ashley, Debbie Doebereiner, Misty Dawn Wilkins
Written by: Coleman Hough
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Running Time: 72
Date: 09/03/2005

Bubble (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Bubble' Whammy

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Steven Soderbergh has racked up the most unusual filmography of any working director today. It sports two extraordinary crime thrillers (Out of Sight and The Limey), two blatantly sensitive Oscar contenders (Erin Brockovich and Traffic), one expensive, unnecessary sequel (Ocean's Twelve), a few bizarre experiments (Kafka, Solaris and Eros), a couple of outright duds (Schizopolis and Full Frontal) and more besides.

Now Soderbergh has gone back to his low-budget roots, though when he made sex, lies and videotape (1989), he couldn't possibly have imagined how much it would change the business of independent filmmaking. With Bubble, Soderbergh very deliberately tries to change it further.

The big deal about Bubble is that it releases simultaneously on movie screens, on DVD and on cable. (Although it turns out that DVD retailers are not equipped to release new titles on Fridays. Bubble will have to wait until next Tuesday.)

Unfortunately, it's unlikely that this ploy will work, at least this time around. Bubble is a striking film, with breathtaking, artfully composed Cinemascope frames that deserve a chance on the big screen. At the same time, it's a bleak story of crippling ennui and inescapable ruts that DVD collectors will probably only want to see once, making it a questionable purchase for its $30 price tag (unless the Soderbergh commentary track is a deciding factor).

Written by Coleman Hough (Full Frontal), the story centers around two working stiffs employed at a doll factory: twenty-something Kyle (Dustin James Ashley) and thirty-something Martha (Debbie Doebereiner). The flabby Martha drives the monosyllabic Kyle to work each day, and they eat droopy, fast food lunches together. Early on, Martha snaps a picture of him and says, "you're my bestest friend."

Everything changes when Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins) joins their tiny workforce. Closer to Kyle's age, Rose has a two-year old daughter, a brain-dead ex-boyfriend and a second job as a housecleaner (as well as a predilection for theft). Over the course of a week, she worms her way in-between the friends; by Friday night, tragedy has struck.

This is Soderbergh's best, most instinctive filmmaking in years (since The Limey). He creates a thorough and thoughtful universe; donut and bait shops mark stopover points between the desperate hovels and the doll factory. And while he spends a good deal of time looking at heavily symbolic, rubbery doll legs, heads and eyes, he never condescends to his characters. He gives these small-towners their own life within a half-life.

(See reviews of other Steven Soderbergh movies.)

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