Making a movie during the lockdown days of the COVID-19 pandemic brought up a ton of conflicting emotions in people. Some folks thought it was frivolous and needlessly risky. Others felt it was important to retain a sense of normalcy and give people something to look forward to. For filmmaker Judd Apatow, it eventually became inspiration for his latest comedy. The Bubble is some of his broadest work, but also his most satirical. Taking the piss out of spoiled actors quarantining to make a big blockbuster sequel contains a ton of humorous potential. While Apatow doesn’t explore it to its fullest, this is an amusing film with enough laughs to easily warrant a recommendation.
The Bubble is taking a canon to self-absorbed actors, Hollywood’s sometimes questionable response to the pandemic, and blockbuster filmmaking in general. Not everything works, but more does than doesn’t. There’s a sense that this should be a bit funnier, but even if you wish you were laughing a bit more, the satire is largely on point.
As the pandemic rages, the cast and crew of Cliff Beasts 6 gathers in London to quarantine and create a filmmaking bubble. This includes Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan), who left the franchise before the prior sequel to strike out on her own. Convinced by her agent to return, she arrives in the UK to spend what she’s been told is three months making the movie, while quarantining with everyone in an empty hotel. Also on hand are her co-stars Sean Knox (Keegan-Michael Key), Dieter Bravo (Pedro Pascal), Dustin Mulray (David Duchovny), Lauren Van Chance (Leslie Mann), and Howie Frangopolous (Guz Khan), plus newcomer and TikTok star Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow). Before long, it becomes clear that won’t be the case for anyone. Whether it’s the cast not getting along, positive tests leading to more quarantine, or any number of other shenanigans, things spin out of control.
The longer the shoot goes on, the less control director Darren Eigan (Fred Armisen) has, or even studio’s supervisor (Peter Serafinowicz). The missive from up top is just to get it done. Every attempt by the studio to control things and extend the filming just drives Carol crazier and crazier. At the same time, separated couple Dustin and Lauren bicker/get back together/repeat, Dieter does drugs and lusts after a hotel employee (Maria Bakalova), and general insanity ensues. Eventually, it all becomes the kind of boondoggle that millions and millions of dollars were spent to avoid.
This cast is stacked. It’s very much an ensemble piece, though if there’s a lead, it’s Karen Gillan, who is somewhat more restrained in her melting down. Her issues may not be fully relatable, but there’s an audience surrogate aspect to the character that works. Gillan is very good here, as is everyone else, even if no one quite is given a showcase to shine. Pedro Pascal goes the biggest, playing the broadest caricature, but he’s a lot of fun. David Duchovny and Leslie Mann play the Hollywood couple we suspect is prevalent within the industry. Iris Apatow is your typical TikTok celebrity, while Keegan-Michael Key is the actor you think has more going on in his mind than there actually is. As for Fred Armison, there are times where his director is hilarious, while other times you wish the character had more. If there’s a disappointment, it’s Maria Bakalova, who is largely wasted. Supporting players here include the aforementioned Guz Khan and Peter Serafinowicz, as well as Vir Das, Rob Delaney, Samson Kayo, Kate McKinnon, Harry Trevaldwyn, Danielle Vitalis, and Chris Witaske, among others.
Judd Apatow directs this with a bit of a manic edge. Co-writing with Pam Brady, he goes broader than usual, forgoing some of the emotional elements and dramedy angles he’s more recently been exploring. The result is a definite time capsule flick, if one that’s slightly more disposable than his works that seek to touch you in the heart. Apatow still certainly knows how to make you laugh, so he and Brady definitely don’t skimp on the humor. There may not be a central highlight, comedy-wise, but the vibe works. At the same time, The Bubble feels long, with Apatow’s trademark two hour-plus running time. There’s a sense that this could have been tighter, or since it’s released on Netflix, easily could have turned into a series. As a film, it definitely works, though it clearly begins to run out of steam at times, before mostly recovering.
The Bubble will amuse almost anyone who checks it out, but people tuned into the film industry will get the most out of it. Judd Apatow and company clearly saw the ridiculousness in everything documented here. Even if this may not be a laugh riot, it’s funny, sometimes vicious in its satire, and continues to show Apatow as one of the leading forces in comedy moviemaking.