Bubble’-icious

“Bubble”Magnolia PicturesDirected by Steven SoderberghWritten by Coleman HoughStarring: Debbie Doebereiner, Dustin Ashley, Misty Wilkins, Decker Moody and K. SmithRated R/77 minutesAvailable now on DVD, HD-Net TV and select theatersThree out of four stars

“Bubble” is a slice of Americana unlike any other we’ve seen in a long time. It’s Steven Soderbergh’s first in a series of six films to be shot on high-definition digital video as part of his multi-format distribution plan, and even he admits that it may be the weirdest of the six.

That’s not to say people should expect anything too extreme. “Bubble” is subtle in its oddity. But after the director’s recent forays into big-budget land-i.e., “Ocean’s Eleven/Twelve”-this seems sort of like Bizarro Soderbergh.

Equal parts experimental and observational, “Bubble” casts an eye on the peculiarities of small-town life. Using a cast of first-time, nonprofessional actors, the film plays like a documentary at times with normal, everyday people having normal, everyday conversations at normal, everyday jobs.

The three principle characters are Martha (Debbie Doebereiner), Kyle (Dustin Ashley) and Rose (Misty Wilkins), all of whom work at a doll factory somewhere in rural Ohio. Soderbergh uses the factory-with its bright-eyed, disembodied plastic faces and detached arms and legs-to create a strange and eerie atmosphere, which proves to be fitting once the story turns into a pseudo murder mystery (although there is never much doubt as to who is guilty, only how the crime was committed).

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Martha, an older, seemingly lonely woman who lives with her invalid father is established relatively quickly as the object of our sympathy, though we sense something just a little off-kilter.

She works at the doll factory with Kyle, a shy 20-something who lives with his mom, and the new hire, Rose, another twenty-something with a 2-year-old daughter. Kyle and Rose begin flirting, then dating, leaving Martha as the third wheel.

But this film is not about a budding romance, nor is it a whodunit. It’s simply an examination of a particular small-town lifestyle and the characters that live it. Soderbergh has said that he wants to find a new, different place for each of his six films; as he puts it, “the kind of place we haven’t seen in the movies very much.”

That’s exactly what this movie is. It’s not necessarily a great film, but it is an extremely interesting one. It is slow, low-key and idiosyncratic but isn’t boring and doesn’t waste any time-the 77-minute run time is just enough.

Soderbergh is a consistently fascinating filmmaker, even when he fails (as in “Full Frontal,” his previous collaboration with “Bubble” screenwriter Cameron Hough). But he refuses to be pinned down and continues to redefine himself-and with “Bubble,” he has redefined himself once again.

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