“Distant and disjointed, Judd Apatow’s The Bubble quarantines its cast from any satisfying fun.”
COVID-19 is certainly no laughing matter, but perhaps what could be funny is how we have had to control our social habits to survive and thrive in a contaminated landscape. Although it seems there are a lot of laughs to squeeze out of our social suffering, few of them will be found in Judd Apatow’s The Bubble.
The film follows the trials and tribulations of the cast, crew, and service staff working on the sixth movie in a monster franchise called Cliff Beasts. They’re stuck in the early days of the pandemic and must quarantine and (unsuccessfully attempt) to socially distance themselves during the months-long shoot. What results is a thinly-tethered collection of jokes and gags that strain under the film’s dismissive tone. Rather than fun or funny critique of franchise films, it’s a movie that seems to under-appreciate all movie-making and those involved in it. Although this could have been a careful and honest critique of genre films and the unfortunate cash grabs that weasel their way into a culturally-beloved tradition, the film’s satire feels half-baked and unobservant.
The film centers on Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan), an actress who left the Cliff Beasts franchise to shoot a miserably-received Israeli-Palestinian conflict film (the short excerpt we see of it is as bad as you might imagine). When she returns, she’s received as a traitor by some of her fellow cast members, especially Lauren (Leslie Mann), who has troubles of her own with her partner Dustin (David Duchovny). Sean (Keegan-Michael Key), the author of a self-help book, strains to keep spirits up among his coworkers while an often-cocaine-high Dieter (Pedro Pascal) tries to seduce a hotel clerk (Maria Bakalova). Iris Apatow, daughter of Judd Apatow himself, plays a young Tiktok super-star who tries to assimilate into the acting life, and Fred Armisen rounds out the cast as the Cliff Beasts 6 director.
It’s a strong cast that never had a chance because of the scattered material. For a movie that mocks one actor’s attempts at a rewrite, The Bubble could have benefited from some cuts and additions itself.
While the film got one good, robust laugh from me (thanks, Pedro), it was a 2-hour peppering of strained chuckles. I wanted to like it, but so much of it try to lambast parts of culture it doesn’t fully understand. There are even a few outdated meme videos in it (“Charlie Bit My Finger” is a whopping 15 years old next month). It drips with generation X cynicism that can’t decide what it likes, what it hates, and what deserves a good lampooning.
The Bubble offers weak and misinformed satire. It disparages franchises, franchise filmmakers, actors, service staff, Tiktok, young people who use Tiktok, and middle-aged people just trying to make it through their lives. Despite this, it’s also light-hearted and goofy, which doesn’t quite fit its parade of cynical pot-shots, but at least these cutesy moments give audiences a reprieve from some of the mean-spiritedness of it.
Overall, The Bubble doesn’t deliver on its timely concept and maroons its cast with random, disconnected comedic bits. If anything, it’s not weird or wacky enough, sprinkling some absurdity in with a relatively cookie-cutter comedic tone. I wanted off-the-wall from it, but what we get is a film committed to social distance from its audience.