As bubbly as soda, but surprisingly sincere, 'Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop' is an easy summer romp that manages to be honest without being complex.
The story of 'Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop' is between the brief romance of a boy named Cherry and a girl named named Smile. Cherry is a shy loner who prefers the company of a few quirky friends and his trusty haiku. He hides between his headphones so that he doesn't hear the noise of the world around him. And while he's a brilliant poet, he hates the idea of sharing his work and feels to insecure to ever attempt so.
Smile is the exact opposite to Cherry. She is an online influencer, an idol in her own right. A girl who enjoys living life and showing the cute tings in the world, she tries to make a platform where she is comfortable in the person she shows the world. But even she has her insecurities, in the form of her buck teeth and braces that she deems too inappropriate for a girl her age.
These two teens find themselves in a series of clumsy mishaps that bring these two characters together to form an unlikely bond that could lead to a magical summer.
First things first, 'Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop' is just pure visual candy. Both in the ways that the story is sweet and that it visually looks like it's made of candy. Every scene is colored in a highly saturated color palette that makes everything look bright and bubbly. There are rarely any shadows that fully obscure how brightly colored everything is. This vibrant color scheme is also paired with the clean look of the lines and shapes as well as clear character designs that aim for maximum visual appeal. And it works.
The aesthetic of the movie just screams "bubbly summer magic" which is what the movie is essentially aiming for. Within the first few minutes, the audience gets a full blast of how cute everything is. From Smile's room, to the mall that Cherry works in, every scene looks like a poster for a summer bazaar, or carries the vibe of weekend fun-under-the-sun. If by visuals alone, you'd make the assumption that the film was a shallow comedy romance that would barely have any drama. And in some ways, this is an understandable assumption since the film doesn't have much of a story besides the slice-of-life approach that it has. But it's also a disservice to what the whole movie is really about.
The film is a bit of a deception. Underneath all the bright colors and goofy characters, there's a very emotional story at its core. It would seem unbelievable considering the breezy approach to storytelling the movie has. Instead of exploring and focusing every miniscule aspect of the main characters, the movie instead approaches the story through atmosphere. It builds the lighthearted world that Cherry and Smile lives in, showing the audience the cut out moments in their mundane life as each of the characters try to find their happiness. We get a whole chase sequence for a piece of cardboard that don't even involve the main characters until the very end, but it serves the purpose of framing the film's tone. It wants the audience to think on the simplistic nature of joy in their world, and that could create the false assumption of being shallow.
But the movie doesn't like telling it's story, it's love to show it. And visual storytelling is how the film gets all the small bits of character and story across. We learn the story of who Cherry is through the quiet reactions he has towards public speaking and interacting with others. The way he absentmindedly trails off when the inspiration of haiku comes. And the loneliness and desire for validation he has through the small moments he repeatedly looks at his online profile. The same goes for Smile, who's story of contrasting lack of self esteem vs her online persona creates an interesting tension and message on the nature of the importance of appearances. Through her desire to interact with others and reach out, but at the same time undermined by her refusal to reveal her true face. All of this is communicated through action and intention, animated with simplicity but is no less effective. And this is even more apparent in the visual language of spray-painted haikus that litter the landscapes and backgrounds of the film. It serves both a role in framing the character of Cherry and the things he can say if given the strength. All told quietly through visuals.
It's not to say that 'Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop' has a lot to say, it doesn't. If anything, the story is a relatively mundane one, a small blip compared to the many possible stories on the adolescent experience. It's not the most original, and it's not the most creative. For all intents and purposes, it could easily be called derivative and copying the many tropes of other slice-of-life movies before it.
But it succeeds largely through sincerity of its story and its characters. As much as it has a simple plot, it does its beset to explore the emotional depth and consequences made by each of the characters, and its effect around them. It's honest about its portrayal of the small insecurities faced by youth, not treating it as something shallow or inconsequential. The film doesn't punish it's characters for being foolish and naïve, it actively helps the characters on finding their place and their confidence. It's genuine in its desire to tell a story of young people slowly figuring things out, bit by bit. It avoids the approach made by other coming-of-age stories and teen dramas that use comedy to degrade the problems teenagers face, instead actively making them front and center but also showing how they can be overcome. Like how Cherry and Smile slowly forget their insecurities in the face of a much more important task.
And this is the film's greatest strength. The sweetness and kind approach to teenage story telling without resorting to over-the-top angst driven plots. It recognizes the carefree world of adolescence, the lighthearted problems that still carry weight to these characters, and respects these problems by telling a story that genuinely show how to overcome these obstacles. And while it isn't the most realistic story in the world, it stays perfectly grounded and pleasant that it will leave audiences with a sense of peace.
Ultimately, 'Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop' is a kind portrayal of the teenage experience. It manages to show how mundanity of the world Cherry and Smile live in, but without insulting the emotions they feel. It's a story that needs to be told, showing how stories can be both emotional without being convoluted.
'Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop' is colorful and deceptively shallow, but surprises with the sincerity that it approaches its characters. If the visuals don't get you, then the pure nature of their adventure and romance will.
Film Rating: 10/10
Synopsis (Courtesy of Netflix):
After meeting one bright, sunny day, a shy boy who expresses himself through haiku and a bubbly but self-conscious girl share a brief, magical summer.
The Official Japanese Website: Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop