The pandemic has produced its share of COVID-related content; from #Alive and Alone to Songbird and Locked Down, we’ve seen takes on the era across genres and mediums. The Bubble, now streaming on Netflix, might be the most star-studded pandemic project we’ve seen yet. Judd Apatow’s COVID comedy throws together a cast of self-absorbed actors who come together to make an action movie as the pandemic rages on.
THE BUBBLE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Somewhere in England, producer Gavin (Peter Serafinowicz) prepares his staff for the arrival of a group of actors to their “bubble”. They’re going to make the sixth movie in the Cliff Beasts action franchise, and they are dedicated to keeping their bubble secure and protecting the set from the still-raging coronavirus. After some convincing, actress Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan) decides to rejoin her cast mates to make this sixth movie (she skipped the fifth), including queen bee Lauren Van Chance (Leslie Mann), scruffy womanizer and very serious actor Dieter Bravo (Pedro Pascal), Dustin Mulray (David Duchovny), might-be-a-cult-leader Sean Knox (Keegan-Michael Key), and stoner Howie Frangopolous (Guz Khan). Also in the cast is fresh-faced teen Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow), a TikTok star making her film debut. They all are mandated to quarantine for two weeks after their arrival, and many of them struggle to hold onto their sanity. Before long, however, production begins.
While the cast and crew do their best to keep a safe set, chaos inevitably ensues. Sean tries to recruit hotel staff members to join his cult, Dieter can’t stop propositioning people for sex (including clerk Anika, played by Borat 2 breakout Maria Bakalova), and Lauren and Dustin’s tumultuous relationship continues to go on-again, off-again. With long working hours, shut downs, and various illnesses going around, this 3-month project begins to stretch much longer, and the drama on set only gets more and more intense. Does the world really need another Cliff Beasts movie? Probably not. But to this studio, getting the movie done seems to literally be a matter of life or death.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: With its “inside baseball” presentation of the inner-workings of the movie industry and spoofing of showbiz types, The Bubble might bring to mind comedies like Tropic Thunder, This is the End, and Get Him to the Greek.
Performance Worth Watching: Pedro Pascal provides some of the few moments of actual joy in The Bubble. In the midst of a largely soulless comedy, he’s acting like he’s in an entirely different movie, zany and scruffy and committed to his whole bit. There’s a reason Pascal is everywhere these days.
Memorable Dialogue: A lot of the jokes in The Bubble feel a bit try-hard, but David Duchovny’s delivery of “I’m sorry I skipped your mom’s funeral to go to the People’s Choice Awards,” gave me a giggle.
Sex and Skin: All of the sexy stuff is played for laughs, from an on-set secret romp and quarantine bubble-breaking orgasm-less sex to some hallucinated workout instructor thrusting that will likely ignite a fire in the heart of Star Wars fans everywhere.
Our Take: The Bubble is all laughs, no heart. Well, a handful of laughs, no heart. There are some sequences that are genuinely funny, and a lot of the commentary on the industry and its players is pretty sharp (even if it feels rich coming from someone like Apatow). Unfortunately, however, The Bubble is just about as shallow as its characters. There’s no real emotional thread that runs through the film, only a series of in-jokes and silly gags that occasionally result in a laugh. To the film’s credit, there’s self-awareness, but The Bubble doesn’t seem interested in doing anything with that knowledge. It just barrels straight ahead, ignoring any chance it gets at doing something slightly more meaningful than the absolute bare minimum.
Apatow has built a career delivering comedies with soul, but The Bubble somehow manages to be devoid of any substance whatsoever. (The two-hour runtime doesn’t help the film’s case, either. What happened to the tight-90 comedy?!). The whole thing is even more of a bummer when you look at the fabulous cast he’s assembled; these actors don’t seem to be having nearly as much fun as the movie hopes they are, and these are some of the most talented people working in the industry today. What gives? The idea is there, but the execution and the way a lot of the subject matter is handled just doesn’t cut it.
Despite its lack of heart and soul, The Bubble will likely be something of a hit on the platform over the coming weeks, given some of its sillier sequences and memorable cameo appearances. When it comes to its place in Apatow’s oeuvre, however, I think The Bubble is best forgotten. Apatow – and all of us – can do so much better.
Our Call: SKIP IT. The Bubble lacks the heart of Apatow’s previous projects, instead delivering something soulless and often unfunny (despite its star-studded cast).
Jade Budowski is a freelance writer with a knack for ruining punchlines, hogging the mic at karaoke, and thirst-tweeting. Follow her on Twitter: @jadebudowski.