CAST: 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, Guz Khan
RUNNING TIME: 126 mins
BASICALLY…: A group of actors filming a Hollywood blockbuster are forced to quarantine in a British hotel…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Every single person who complained that Don’t Look Up, Netflix’s star-studded satire about a concerning global crisis, was nothing more than a smug, obnoxious and vapid movie, should probably start working up the courage to apologise to Adam McKay and those filmmakers, because no matter what your opinion may be on that movie, there is no way in hell that it is worse than The Bubble, Netflix’s latest star-studded satire about a concerning global crisis.
Except, unlike Don’t Look Up, there is no sense of ambition on display here. There is nothing to say about anything, other than, “aren’t Hollywood elitists so full of themselves and nowhere near as charming as they may seem on camera?”, as though the likes of Tropic Thunder or even last weekend’s Oscars ceremony haven’t already made that message abundantly clear. Instead, director and co-writer Judd Apatow’s The Bubble is an aggressively unfunny, interminable viewing experience that is about as empty and vapid as the movie stars filming the movie within the actual movie.
Such film-within-a-film is Cliff Beasts 6, the latest in a waning dino franchise that looks and sounds like a Jurassic World knock-off made by “mockbuster” maestros The Asylum. The shoot is happening in London, but since the pandemic is well under way by this point (the movie takes place in 2020, as if you needed to know that), everyone is forced to undergo inhumane COVID procedures from extended quarantines in a posh country hotel to nose swabs to face coverings at all times. The film’s focus is on the various egos that make up the cast: among them are Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan) whose dried-up career has driven her to return to the franchise that made her name, Lauren and Dustin (Leslie Mann and David Duchovny respectively) who are a former couple, Dieter (Pedro Pascal) who has severe addiction problems, popular TikTok star Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow) who’s making her acting debut, and spiritual wellness guru Sean Knox (Keegan-Michael Key). They all have to try and get along under the increasingly limiting conditions, which is hard when they not only can’t stand each other, but are also desperate to depart the production that is clinging onto them like a pack of leeches.
I am honestly flabbergasted that a movie from a great comedic director like Apatow, co-writer Pam Brady who has credits on the likes of South Park and Team America: World Police, and actors who have been exceptionally funny in so many other projects, could fall so flat on its face when it comes to comedy. This is easily the worst movie of Apatow’s directing career, because even for someone who often applies much looser narratives than normal in his films, he is completely unable to form a coherent structure that feels natural or satisfying. The whole thing is basically a series of vignettes that have been very loosely stitched together, and as such there is no telling where in the story we are actually supposed to be, since it never feels like it has ever properly started, let alone come close to being anywhere near some sort of conclusion. Scenes will just abruptly end, while others will go on for way longer than they should, and none of them ever manage to produce a single laugh because not only is the material woefully lacking, but there is never a sense in this direction or whatever is passing as a script that the viewer is supposed to find these situations funny, or incredibly uncomfortable.
The satire is completely surface-level, going no further than simply mocking the excessive egos of the Hollywood elite that have been parodied in far funnier and smarter ways in so many other movies. As for its mocking of COVID policies on movie sets, I’ll admit that there was serious trepidation going into this because, well, is anyone really ready to laugh about this whole thing when the virus is still in active circulation? Sure, vaccines have helped significantly for us to move forward today, but for so many of us who are still experiencing the psychological fallout of having to isolate for months without end and not doing any of the things we enjoy doing, watching a movie like The Bubble try to poke light fun at the isolation we all went through, as well as the extreme protection and testing procedures posed on all of us, is almost bound to be triggering for a lot of people. It’s the textbook definition of the phrase “too soon?”, like if you made a movie about 9/11 in 2002; put simply, society is just not ready for this kind of COVID comedy yet.
Instead, The Bubble falls into the same trap as other high-profile COVID-spolitation movies like Songbird and Locked Down did, which is that the pandemic is used as a direct source to manipulate emotional reactions in order to further its own plot, only here we’re supposed to laugh at these indulged rich people, most of whom we don’t really like or care about all that much (despite the very game cast’s efforts), having to endure a nightmare film shoot with added face masks and sadistic bodyguards who shoot people’s hands off (that happens, by the way). Apatow surely meant well when he dived nose-first into making this movie, but his execution is exceptionally muddled, failing to find a hook to carry his movie through its multiple vignette segments, and adding nothing to the satire of inflated Hollywood egos or the pandemic, except to make broad and unsuccessful jokes at everyone’s expense, from the characters to the viewer. It’s a miserable form of COVID-sploitation, one that is constantly making a fool of itself while trying so depressingly to be funny when addressing topics and themes that are still raw for a lot of us in 2022.
Watching this movie was seriously a punishing experience, because at no point was I ever laughing, nor was I invested in what was actually going on, since it never offers a clear structure to get behind. Even some of the worse films I’ve seen so far this year, whether it’s Blacklight or even The Nan Movie, at least had some kind of framework to them that made it clear where exactly in the story we were. I can’t even say that about The Bubble, which is a miserble and incomprehensible mess that surely ranks as a career-low for so many people involved. Like COVID itself, let’s hope it never makes a comeback.
SO, TO SUM UP…
The Bubble is an atrocious attempt at satirising both excessive Hollywood egos and COVID-impacted film shoots, but is neither funny nor smart about its well-worn satire to deliver on either front, and is so incomprehensibly written and framed that it only serves as a laugh-free embarrassment for everyone involved, as well as the viewer.