The Bubble, 2022.
Directed by Judd Apatow.
Starring Karen Gillan, Iris Apatow, Fred Armisen, Maria Bakalova, David Duchovny, Keegan-Michael Key, Leslie Mann, Kate McKinnon, Pedro Pascal, Peter Serafinowicz, Vir Das, Rob Delaney, Galen Hopper, Samson Kayo, Guz Khan, Nick Kocher, Ross Lee, Harry Trevaldwyn, Danielle Vitalis, Maria Bamford, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Cena, Beck, and James McAvoy.
A group of actors and actresses stuck inside a pandemic bubble at a hotel attempts to complete a film.
It should be said upfront there are several jokes in Judd Apatow’s latest comedy, The Bubble, that do land, but almost nothing exciting or no emotional undercurrent to pin it on. That’s also shocking considering the concept, which sees a dysfunctional ensemble of Hollywood actors playing pampered and entitled actors trying to maintain their composure shooting a big-budget blockbuster using green screens during a pandemic. Mind you, a pandemic that we are still not out of, which lessens some of the enjoyment here even though some of the jokes simultaneously already feel dated).
The Bubble is the type of comedy that needs to ruthlessly skewer the entertainment industry without pulling punches, similar to Tropic Thunder if it’s going to work. And while it is fine depicting several fictional actors as a bunch of babies that can’t handle two-week isolations or nose swabs under spoiled conditions inside a luxurious hotel, the narrative is more content shifting villainy over to the crew and producers (Fred Armisen is a treasured scene-stealer as a whiny Sundance-winning director stepping into a big-budget sandbox) who will stop at nothing to release the sixth entry in their franchise, hoping to save the series, the studio, and the movie industry as a whole. There’s also the fact that some of the jokes I just mentioned are on the nose and play out as expected.
In some ways, The Bubble (which Judd Apatow co-writes alongside Pam Brady) feels like a contradictory product of the very things it’s mocking and leveling criticism against. It’s a comedy that was, presumably, filmed inside a bubble of its own that doesn’t necessarily need to exist. Then again, there is no justification for most movies to exist beyond turning a profit. However, The Bubble carries a misguided tone along the lines of those sequels of various franchises that criticize the nature of sequels while functioning as yet another one. Here is a movie about bubbles made inside a bubble that can’t even make up for its hypocrisy with enough memorable zaniness, hilarious characters, thoughtful commentary on the industry, or anything worth caring about.
That last one is primarily a crime considering The Bubble (like all Judd Apatow movies) is over two hours, which is more forgivable in his past works considering they usually have dramatic stakes. Funny People earn the right to come close to two and a half hours even if it might not be perfect. Meanwhile, there is no excuse for The Bubble to cross that two-hour mark.
Nevertheless, the comedy features Karen Gillan playing Carol Cobb, a fictional Hollywood star coming off a box office bomb called Jerusalem Rising (a disastrous idea that sounds ridiculously entertaining for all the wrong reasons), returning to the series that launched her to superstardom, Cliff Beasts. There is some bad blood between her and the rest of the cast (notable faces from David Duchovny to Keegan-Michael Key to Pedro Pascal to, of course, the filmmaker’s regularly collaborative wife and daughter Leslie Mann and Iris Apatow) for abandoning the co-stars inevitably paving the way for some lessons about togetherness and unity even among coddled actors.
Naturally, the cast also succumbs to relatable aspects of quarantine, whether it be loneliness or horniness (Pedro Pascal amusingly tries to court a hotel worker played by Maria Bakalova) or anxiety (characters up to smuggle in drugs). There are on-and-off relationships (Duchovny and Mann) simmering up once again, a wild assortment of cameos that bring a much-needed shot of craziness (again, the most frustrating thing about the whole movie is that it simply doesn’t feel anywhere near as wild as it should be), and somewhat of a short-lived darker turn when cast members decide they would like to leave the shoot and go home. One of the more pleasantly absurd additions sees Iris Apatow as a social media celebrity cast in the next installment of Cliff Beasts to pull in more of a hipper audience, which sounds exactly like something Hollywood would do (especially ABC given their outrageous and alienating demands for this year’s Oscars telecast that will have already aired by the time this publishes).
The Bubble is at its funniest whenever focused on the filming of Cliff Beasts 6 (which also has an overly long and goofy subtitle I will let you discover for yourself), a movie that feels like a SyFy original version of Jurassic Park. There is a welcome balancing act between behind-the-scenes filmmaking and special effects work that touches the right amount of inside baseball for just about everyone to find laughs in. Everything from stunt work mishaps to incidents involving vomit pop up, lending the experience the wacky energy it’s otherwise missing.
Judd Apatow has a solid concept with plenty of scattered chuckles, but it simply doesn’t skewer hard enough or develop into a story worth investing in throughout its bloated run time of one too many characters and subplots.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com