A few days ago I watched Steven Soderberg’s new film Bubble, a low-budget film with no-name actors about three lonely people working in an Ohio doll factory.

I’m a big fan of Soderberg’s work, but I have to say that I was a little befuddled by this offering. Although somewhat stylized to the degree that his other films like Out of Sight evoked a time and place, Bubble is weird and quiet. The camera films its subject with a cold, unmoving eye, giving the film an uncanny, immobile feel. The visual metaphor is appropriate, though, as each of the three main characters are so immobilized by their lives, trapped in dead-end jobs, and unable to make connections with others.

The film’s synopsis promised a “love triangle” and “a murder mystery,” and each of these encompass about 10 minutes each of this 1 hour-13 minute film.

The acting is unnervingly “method,” or perhaps amateurish, but I particularly loved the factory foreman, who either wasn’t acting at all or was brilliant the way he kept his eyes closed while addressing his employees.

The stifling nature of the cinematography here also comments on the relative poverty of the area in which these characters live. One does not own a car and must be schlepped everywhere he wants to go. Several of them work two jobs, or work for the plant after hours at home. The homes are decorated like those of people who lived in my home town–lots of wood paneling, small and dingy apartments, and lots of curlicued dark wood furniture.

Even the plot, with its relative “nothing happens-ness” is oppressive, and the film’s lack of clear resolution is a clear assertion that nothing—not love, not murder—can change the way these people interact with each other, their jobs, or their landscape. Their dead-end lives have one dimension, one direction. It’s sort of an easy connection to make (No money = no love) and probably one that’s been done before. Bubble‘s most compelling offering, then, is its avoidance of movie-making magic and the veneer we wash over middle America.

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