Friday, June 16, 2006

I just got back from the Nickelodeon, where tonight's feature was Bubble, directed by Stephen Soderburg and written by Coleman Hough -- who is from Charleston and stuck around afterwards for questions.

The great noteworthy distinction of the film is its marketing. It debuted a few months ago simultaneously on the screen and on DVD, I guess so you could kind of take your pick. It's not the most attractive picture; I think it was shot on Hi-Definition Video and it kind of looks it. It's set in a dead little town and the story is told in actual homes, which gives it that kind of cramped look of low-budget films, albeit one made with exceptional skill.

I knew nothing about the film going in and was never quite sure where the story, involving a handful of people who work in a doll factory, was going to go, but it's one of those movies that connects with its characters so well that you find yourself putting total trust in it to pull you along. In a nutshell, it's about two people who work at a doll factory -- the matronly Martha and the younger Kyle, on whom she has a very secret crush -- whose lives are interrupted by a new employee, Rose, a single mom who makes a play for Kyle with tragic consequences.

All the way through, the film's authenticity seemed to ring true to the lives of people whose life is nothing but a stale routine: assembly-line work (making plastic faces with frozen smiles), fast food lunches in the company canteen over idle banter (Kyle seems to respond to every new piece of information with "That's cool") then home (or a second job), TV and sleep. I'd never seen the actors before, but I thought they were perfectly cast.

Well, there's a reason for that. Turns out the whole thing was improvised. I stepped out to pee when Ms. Hough was explaining how she landed this assignment, but from what I gathered once she and Soderburgh hooked up artistically they got the idea of doing some kind of movie set among people in a doll factory, of which there are apparently only three left in the country. Once they settled on a location in Ohio, Hough and casting director Carmen Cuba spent weeks living in the town, soaking up atmosphere and hiring the non-acting principal actors right off the street. Debbie Doeberiner, who plays Martha, was managing a KFC when she Cuba spotted her dressing down an employee.

From there, they made it up the story as it went along, shooting in sequence, giving the actors some general direction of what to talk about, and presumably letting Soderburg indulge his Godardian side. It's not a totally satisfying movie, but it has the grimy feel of a good minimalist short story: dirty realism done dirt cheap.

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