Monday, April 03, 2006


Magnolia Pictures, dir. Steven Soderbergh, 73 min

First: a note about the title. I once had a boss in an “interim job” during my early “retirement” (?!?) who called me “Bubbles.” after a csrtain chimpanzee, so rumor has it.

This is one of those movies that creates controversy by the circumstances of its release and its technology. Magnolia is releasing this film on DVD and Cable at the same time as its platform release in theaters, which has caused some theater chains to boycott it and has started your typical turf wars debate. So I went to Landmark E Street in Washington Saturday Jan. 28 to see it, and found the small auditorium reasonably full.

The film is in cinemascope HDNet, the full wide screen rendering of high definition video by Panavision, and visually it is very effective, with the outdoor scenes of spring in southern Ohio and in Parkersburg, W Va. So are the indoor scenes of the doll factory. The visual image of the molded plastic doll body parts forms a metaphor for the characters, who inhabit this fictive world as objects and pawns in a game where others have a lot more wealth and they are the proles struggling to make ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck. So this minimalist movie is itself about the morality of the way we perceive other people.

The cast is reported to be locals, not professional actors, and they are very effective. The script was apparently improvised so the speech is very natural with a lot of slang and monosyllabic chatter. I don’t know what the legal arrangements were, and whether the actors had to join SAG.

The story centers around three main characters: Martha (Debbie Doebereiner), an fiftyish woman supervising in the doll factory and taking care of her sessile aging father (Omar Cowan) who pretty much has to have all of his physical needs attended. She keeps him at home rather than sending him to a nursing home ICF with Medicaid. She mother hens a young man Kyle (Dutsin Ashley), who would look like a gay icon with his young unfurrowed teenage face if he hadn’t disfigured his forearms with symmetrical tattoos on his wrists (oh, yes, he wants to be covered with body art, as that is his own avenue to self expression). Oh, yes, he chain smokes, as do the other characters. (Oh, didn’t you hear, heavy smoking can make you go bald in the legs.)

Enter 23-year-old Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins) as an employee, and an emotional triangle develops, which Martha perhaps resents. Rose has another job cleaning house for rich people in town, and had just quit a CAW job in a nursing home (where she was the last resort to take custodial potty care of nursing home residents). But Rose asks Martha to babysit her two year old while she goes on a date with Kyle, who apparently quit high school and some sort of emotional disturbance and a stint of special education. They go to Kyle’s room (a room is all that he can afford), and little happens, but while Kyle is out of the room to get a beer, she steals some money from his chest of drawers. They return, and Rose has a confrontation with her ex boyfriend Jake (K. Smith) who had fathered the child.

Next day Rose is found strangled to death, and you have the mystery. I won’t give the solution, but there are loose ends in the story, clues that go nowhere. In the final analysis, it seems that people do not always know what they do. Decker Moody is masterful as the police inspector, and he hammers home at the guilty party into remembering the crime.

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