Movie Review of “Bubble” by Steven Soderbergh: Anybody Can Be a Non-Actor!
© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.
Many critics proclaim Bubble, directed by Steven Soderbergh, to be a quirky masterpiece of filmmaking that uses low-cost digital cameras. So I rented the DVD from Netflix, which predicted a respectable 3.3 stars out of 5 for my rating.
The 2005 movie follows three people barely surviving in a decaying Ohio town. Middle-aged Martha (Debbie Doebereiner), who takes care of her invalid father, works in a doll factory with twenty-something Kyle (Dustin James Ashley), whom she calls her “bestest friend in the whole world.” She asks about his dating life, which is non-existent; eats lunches with him; and drives him to and fro his two jobs.
Enter Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins), an attractive, twenty-something single mother who joins the team due to a high order of dolls. Though she eats lunch with Kyle and Martha, she and the boy spend time together every day to smoke. She asks Martha to babysit her two-year-old so she can go on a date. When Martha goes to Rose’s house, she is surprised to learn that Rose’s date is Kyle and complains that they should’ve told her so she doesn’t feel foolish.
The date is an ordinary dinner, though Rose asks to visit Kyle’s home and then bedroom to drink some beer. When Kyle leaves the room to fetch beer, Rose goes through his drawers to steal his money. The theft remains undiscovered. The date ends with Kyle returning Rose home and then leaving.
Rose’s ex-boyfriend shows up and angrily demands money that she stole from him, all in front of Martha. They have a shouting match but Rose manages to throw the boyfriend out. When Martha asks Rose what that is about, she tells the older woman to mind her own business. Martha is hurt and eventually goes home.
The next day, Rose is found strangled and a detective interviews the three main suspects, Martha, Kyle and the ex-boyfriend to determine the murderer.
There’s a school of acting that suggests that if you don’t act, your emotions will carry you through a believable performance. This is what Soderbergh was going for when she recruited his entire cast from the real people that inhabited this town. That strategy can work if the script is lightweight, or if the actors are put in real situations that elicit real emotions, such us in reality shows. In the artificial world of scripted filmmaking, multiple takes can drain spontaneity, the lack of acting quickly becomes lack of emotion. The cast becomes boring automatons from which the audience try to decipher some feeling.
For example, the script clearly calls for Martha and Kyle to have some sexual tension because of Martha’s unfulfilled romantic longing for the boy. But her blank expressions don’t quite allow such complexity. Kyle plays the shy, socially inept young man well, but doesn’t rise beyond that one note. Rose’s levels range between indifference and anger.
In the flirtation between Kyle and Rose when they first meet, you can see the actors trying to mug for the camera with forced sexiness. Then their faces melt into a fixed stare as the director, in a panic, tells them “Don’t act! Don’t act!”
The lack of acting ability is especially obvious if you view the bonus materials, which features interviews with the cast. In these segments, the casts behave believably because they’re being their ordinary, spontaneous selves. Their faces light up and their voices are filled with expression. They become interesting, in sharp contrast to the lifeless characters that they play.
The 1-hour, 13-minute film spends half its time revealing the boredom and desperation stifling the town and its inhabitants. Many critics praise this portion as evocative cinema verite that reveals subtle truths. The only problem is that truth becomes obvious in the first five minutes of the film. There’s no need to hammer the point down for half the movie.
The dialog is often mumbled and becomes inaudible when the monotonous guitar music background comes on. And I guess the Miranda decision doesn’t apply to small towns. The soft-boiled detective accuses and then jails the killer sans the rights reading and a lawyer.
I keep wondering if this movie would have ever gotten made if Joe from film school was at the helm instead of Soderbergh. This is the kind of film that perpetuates the erroneous notion that acting requires no talent, skill or dedication. This effort gets one star out of five. Rather than watching this flick, you can find a more entertaining hour or so taking a nap.
For more information, visit the Bubble page at IMDB.