Kim and Marlon never met in real life, but they considered one another best friends, bonding initially over a shared love of photography and cameras and texting one another every day.
But Marlon dies, sending one last message to Kim saying he had something important to tell her, but not able to send his message before suddenly passing away.
With that eternal “dot dot dot” lingering between them — and wanting to see if she can recover his final message — Kim decides to attend his funeral to gain a better sense of the friend she never got to meet.
Written and directed by Charles Wahl, this thoughtful, elegantly crafted drama probes the elusiveness and mysteries of human connection, as well as the unusual shapes and expressions of grief. It takes on the contemporary subject of online and digital relationships, but it asks eternal questions of what it means to really know someone, and whether such an idea is even possible, even in an age of over-sharing and 24/7 communication.
There is almost a severe sense of realism in the visuals, which manage to be both stark and muted by turns, thanks to an emphasis on natural and practical lighting. True to a film whose main characters are photographers, the cinematography is exquisite and restrained, able to conjure an enigmatic atmosphere by transmuting simple and mundane everyday details into symbols of almost talisman-like suggestion. The framings also alternate between a close, almost intense intimacy and an off-kilter distance when Kim is among Marlon’s community, emphasizing her separateness from his community and perhaps her own personal remoteness as a person.
Lead actor Kaelen Ohm offers an engaging performance as Kim, whose arc is essentially an outsider coming into an unknown world. The twist, though, is that she believes herself to be more on the inside as one of Marlon’s closest confidantes. She speaks with a gentle, kind yet almost naive confidence about his deepest thoughts that she was privy to. And yet as Kim encounters Marlon’s widow and their friends, their reactions evince a great skepticism and even hostility towards her.
How well does she know him, anyway? Could they really be just friends? Was there no ulterior motive? Were they really as close as she believed? Kim finds herself never quite drawn into the fold, leaving her in a state of suspension with her own strange grief.
“Little Grey Bubbles” doesn’t directly answer those questions, practicing an intelligent, rigorous storytelling economy guided by a sense of restraint and a refusal of easy sentimentality. Instead, perhaps recognizing that those answers are as elusive as an electronic ghost, it lets those questions hang in the air, both for viewers and for Kim.
Beyond that, it ponders just what happens to these modern bonds when they inevitably stop — as all relationships will, eventually, due either to the vagaries of life or mortality. It has been said that grief is the price we pay for love, and what’s remarkable about “Little Grey Bubbles” is how it portrays Kim’s grief as something essentially separate and isolated from the community of grief that his real-life friends and family share. In many ways, the isolation of her mourning feels a larger tragedy at the end — and poses disquieting, melancholic questions as many of our real-life relationships shape-shift in life and online as a society.