Everyone’s talking about Bubble. Well, not everyone. But everyone in the movie industry and entertainment “journalism” is. Unfortunately, they’re not talking about the movie’s merits, which are considerable, but about how it’s being shown. You see, Bubble, directed by Steven Soderbergh, is the first relatively mainstream movie to be released in theaters and on dvd simultaneously. Tonight, you could head up to the Landmark theater and see the movie projected or you could head down to your local video store and rent it. It’s up to you, and that choice has the industry in a tizzy.

I realize this is not an issue that keeps you up at night, so I won’t bore you with the details. But the question of how films are released will profoundly affect your moviegoing experience for years to come. Will we continue to see them in the theater, projected using celluloid and surround sound in a communal setting? Or are we moving to a system where most people will stay at home, with their advanced home theater systems, and download the latest movies?

Ironically, Bubble won’t be projected on celluloid here in Chicago, even in theaters. It was filmed in high definition video and will be screened using the latest in digital projectors. Part of the debate over viewing environments revolves around the nature of film and whether watching something on film is different than watching it on video. I saw Bubble at the Toronto Film Festival, where it was also digitally projected, and I’m not sure I could’ve told the difference. The technology, both in how “films” are shot and how they’re projected, has made such quantum leaps in the last few years that probably only experts could discern the difference between celluloid and video.

If all directors were as capable as Soderbergh and had access to the kind of equipment he has, I wouldn’t mind if the entire industry shifted to video. But I’m not willing to give up the theater experience. I know my friends, with their fancy home systems, try to convince me that watching at home is just like going to the movies, but I don’t believe them. There’s something fundamentally different about seeing a movie on the big screen in a completely dark environment with a sound system that envelops you. Furthermore, it’s special to “go to” the movies; you can’t get the same rush just walking to the next room. And watching with a crowd of people alters how we see. Admittedly, that crowd feeling isn’t always advantageous (cell phones, boorish talking), but tell me there isn’t something fun about watching a comedy or thriller or melodrama with a huge audience. The communal experience is significant and one of the great aspects of seeing a film.


Well, enough about movies in general. How about Bubble? Simply, it’s well worth your time no matter how you see it. Soderbergh has returned to his roots, concentrating on characters and narrative instead of celebrities and glamour. The setting is a small town on the West Virginia-Ohio border, and the first person we meet is Martha (Debbie Doebereiner). She’s a normal, stocky, middle-aged woman, the kind we almost never see in movies. She’s taking care of her aged father and makes ends meet by working in a local doll factory. On the way to work every day, she picks up Kyle (Dustin James Ashley), a much younger man who lives with his mom and works two jobs. Those aren’t enough to own a functional car, though, which is why he bums rides off Martha. She doesn’t mind, though. The companionship and the little thrill of hanging out with a much younger man makes the day go by faster. That changes, though, when Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins) starts working at the factory. Rose is Kyle’s age. And though she wouldn’t be considered beautiful by Hollywood’s standards, she’s pretty and catches Kyle’s eye. Martha is left feeling her age.

What I really like about Bubble is how Soderbergh and screenwriter Coleman Hough take their time to develop these characters. Through discussions around the lunch table, in bars after work, and on old couches in their living rooms, Martha, Kyle and Rose come alive. Their dreams and struggles have an earthy reality we so rarely see out of Hollywood. I’ve often mentioned my fondness for films that deal honestly with the working class, and Bubble fits perfectly in that category. These are real people, and you’re going to recognize them and fall in love with them.

It helps that Soderbergh cast non-professionals who actually lived in the town where he filmed, and apparently the story was developed through conversations and improvisations that the actors and filmmakers conducted. But don’t think that this is a documentary. If nothing else, Soderbergh’s glorious widescreen compositions and magic-hour lighting convey a richness to these people and the town, as if they were just as deserving of the Hollywood treatment. And when the plot takes a sharp turn halfway through (I won’t spoil the surprise), Bubble turns into a mystery movie, but one with fascinating characters. I don’t much care how you see Bubble, but do see it.

Bubble: four stars, out of five