“I need a picture of you.”
In Bubble director Steven Soderbergh takes a look at the small town life of three working class Americans. When the film begins, middle-aged heavyset Martha (Debbie Doebereiner) prepares breakfast for her elderly father and then leaves for her job at a doll factory. Along the way, she stops to pick up workmate Kyle (Dustin James Ashley), and she also drives him to his second job at night. Kyle, who lives with his mother in a trailer, is a high-school dropout, and according to Martha, he’s her best friend. In fact, she snaps a photo of him when they make their daily stop at a doughnut shop.
Once the film has established Martha and Kyle’s drab daily routine, a new character–a young single mother named Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins) enters the picture. She’s the latest employee at the factory. Rose spends her breaks with Martha and Kyle, and their meals are either fast food or eaten out of vending machines. Banal exchanges between the employees pass for conversation. Rose is also without a car, and she soon asks Martha for lifts to her second job as a housecleaner.
Soderbergh used non-professionals in the film, and in a sense, the film is refreshing–after all–so many Hollywood films consistently fail to reproduce even a faint facsimile of ordinary working class life in America, and let’s face it, not everyone in America lives in fabulous beach homes. Instead Bubble reflects the ordinariness of life for those who have to struggle with two jobs, and no car, and this is the America so rarely captured on film. The film’s emphasis is on alienation, and isolation–with subtle criticism of social conditions. Some of the action takes place inside the huge factory, and while Rose is employed because the company must make a large order, it’s obvious that the factory used to provide jobs for more than just the handful of people who work there now. This is a dying industry, and yet it’s a lifeline for its employees. Rose dreams of a better future in another town, but with background radio commentary marking how many Americans are without health insurance, there’s an implied idea that the future may not look rosier anywhere else.
In many ways, the film works, and in other ways it doesn’t. Some of the acting is wooden, and while this underscores the characters’ emotional disconnection, the amateurish feel remains. Nonetheless, Soderbergh manages to maintain dramatic tension right up to the film’s conclusion–thanks to some unpredictable character traits. Bubble is an interesting film to watch, and as an experiment in filmmaking it works … some of the time.