A film review by Craig J. Koban April 14, 2022

THE BUBBLE j
   

2022, PG-13, 136 mins.

Karen Gillan as Carol Cobb  /  Iris Apatow as Krystal Kris  /  David Duchovny as Sean Knox  /  Leslie Mann as Lauren Van Chance  /  Keegan Michael Key as Howie Frangopolous  /  Pedro Pascal as Dieter Bravo  /  Fred Armisen as Darren  /  Maria Bakalova as Danika /  Kate McKinnon as Paula  /  Peter Serafinowicz as Gavin 

Directed by Judd Apatow  / Written by Apatow and Pam Brady

ORIGINAL FILM

Judd Apatow's latest comedy THE BUBBLE hones in on two subjects: Rampant Hollywood phoniness/self-importance and our current pandemic woes.  

It's the kind of film, though, that makes you feel like you just spent an arduous and soul-sucking 14-day quarantine with a group of detestable strangers.  

THE BUBBLE - much like last year's far better, funnier, but also problematic star-studded DON'T LOOK UP - is a distractingly smug, obnoxiously bloated, and mostly bereft of laughs satire that's a real endurance testing slog to sit through.  It's made all the more staggering considering that it comes from Apatow, who made - for my money - some of the best comedies of their respective eras in THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP (on top of producing genre hits like SUPERBAD and ANCHORMAN).  I've been tougher on Apatow's more recent comedies (last year's THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND was creatively unwieldy), but now with THE BUBBLE I find myself far less forgiving.  Apatow has made some ferociously funny and smart comedies; this ain't one of them. 

Any maybe because the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging on and causing death worldwide, I can't think of any possible reason what anyone wanted THE BUBBLE in the first place.  Apatow and co-writer Pam Brady have taken real life inspiration, oddly enough, from the fascinating production history of JURASSIC PARK: DOMINION (releasing this summer).  That dinosaur sequel made the industry chatter away when the makers shut down the production when the pandemic first hit in 2020, but then decided that the show must go on and made the controversial decision to resume filming (remember, this was during the earliest stages of the pandemic when there existed no vaccines and our collective scientific understanding of it was in its infancy).  The entire production had to follow some seriously draconian protocols, including the stars having to quarantine together in the same hotel for two weeks prior to re-filming and go through frequent PCR testing.  Now, this begs two big questions: (a) Is endangering people to make a movie ethical and (b) what was it actually like for these Hollywood celebs during this shoot? 

THE BUBBLE attempts to tackle this head-on by introducing us to the cast and crew of the in-production CLIFF BEAST 6, a franchise - like JURASSIC PARK -  that's dino-heavy, star-heavy, and perhaps has had far too many franchise entries (granted, they're cash cows, so, there ya go).  As the film opens the pandemic starts to rear its ugly head around the globe, leaving the producers of CLIFF BEAST 6 in a real pickle of a situation.  Throwing caution to the wind while trying to ensure the safety of their mega-stars, the studio decides to gather everyone at a rigorously closed set and facility in England that's completely segregated from the outside world in hopes of finishing the shoot and not getting anyone sick.  The director of the film, Darren (Fred Armisen), is salivating at the mouth to go.  After all, before this he was a Sundance winning filmmaker that shot is last micro-budgeted effort on his phone...and before that he was a lowly customer service rep at Home Depot. 

 

 

The rest of the cast soon arrives, most of them with obvious apprehensions about what's to come.  There's Carol (Karen Gillan), one of the main stars of the franchise that really wanted out, but was inclined to continue because of the massive paycheck involved and her embarrassing career choices outside of it (in one of the film's few amusing bits, we see footage of her last starring vehicle, the noble minded, but offensively conceived JERUSALEM RISING, where the pasty white skinned actress laughably tries to play a half-Israeli/half-Palestinian woman).   Then there's Dustin and Lauren (David Duchovny and Leslie Mann, wife of Apatow), who are an industry married couple, but are now on a collision course  towards divorce during the shoot (Dustin is also a staunch environmentalist that wants to infuse some save the planet messaging into a film about flying dinos).  Sean (Keegan-Michael Key) is a constant thorn in everyone's side because of his incessant pushing of his new "lifestyle brand."  The drug addicted Howie (Guz Khan) is so hooked on dope that he's trying to find ways of smuggling it in the prison-secured production.  Of course, there's a social media/TikTok influencer, Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow, daughter of the director), who doesn't appear to have any acting talent, but has such a presence and huge following online that the studio opted to insert her in.  Oh, Pedro Pascal (who most recently and famously appeared on THE MANDALORIAN) also shows up as a downtrodden star that appears, at one point, with another STAR WARS star (in an unexpected cameo) that's probably a hallucination (hopefully) spawned by isolation anxiety.   

THE BUBBLE really fails as both a riotous comedy and as a razor sharp satire, which is clearly evident in the hyper strained manner that Apatow and his cast try to milk laughs out of the stilted material.  The director has been known for using a lot of improvisational shenanigans on his sets, but in THE BUBBLE there's no apparent conceptual discipline here at all.  The cast are allowed to essentially run wild and rampant through their scenes, which leads to many of them screaming relentlessly at the top of their lungs in hopes that the collective and sheer volume of their voices will generate merriment.  There's a shrill level of desperation on display throughout THE BUBBLE, mostly because the entire film is essentially made up of a series of brutally long vignettes of the actors trying excruciatingly hard to produce belly laughs, but stumbling miserably in the process.  Comic momentum is also not aided by this film's egregiously long length: One of Apatow's biggest creative sins as of late is in making his comedies so...bloody...long.  At 136 minutes, THE BUBBLE feels like it's about 36 minutes too long for its own good. 

I think that Apatow was aiming for some semblance of organized chaos here, but THE BUBBLE so clunky and tired in its execution that it becomes more fatiguing to sit through by the minute.  It's so shameful, because the stars on display here are capable of being hysterical when given the right material (look at how Gillan shined in the JUMANJI sequels).  Satires need to ruthlessly go for the jugular with their targets, but as a satire of the vanity of Hollywood and the cynical nature of studios perusing blockbuster box office at all costs, THE BUBBLE is essentially and easily shooting at fish in a barrel targets.  The targets in question here are ultra pampered and deeply egomaniacal Hollywood actors that, I think, we're supposed to sympathize with when it comes to their quarantine woes.  I found it hard to relate to the first world problems of these me-first driven millionaires whose isolation world resides in posh luxury hotels; this is a million miles removed from us common folk.  Then there's the absurdity of risking people's lives and well being to make entertainment during a deadly period of pandemic unease, and THE BUBBLE utterly fails at wrapping its head around the nonsensical industry recklessness that the film itself is a part of. 

Again, perhaps it's also just, well, too soon for a film to lampoon masks, physical distancing, and things required to keep people...alive and well.  THE BUBBLE wants us to laugh with the struggles of this production team to maintain their sanity while under house arrest quarantine, but it's simply not very savvy with the underlining material (we get lots of would-be uproarious gags about nose swabbing, avoiding bodily contact, binge watching TV and movies in seclusion, and so forth, but it's simply too cringe worthy to watch, for the most part).  Apatow tries to pepper in a massive number of celeb cameos to add to his film's already escalating swell (including a very perplexing sequence involving a deep faked in Benedict Cumberbatch during a drug trip gone horribly wrong), but it all comes off as so exhausting (at one point, Daisy Ridley appears and proclaims "I don't know what I'm doing here" and it feels a little too on the nose).  

Three thoughts overwhelmed as I tried to make it through the almost insufferably unwatchable THE BUBBLE: (1) Maybe this would have worked far better as a fly-on-the-wall mockumentary styled satire (there's a running subplot about a lowly camera man shooting a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the film within the film...and I kept on thinking "That's the film I really want to see!); (2) seek out and re-watch Ben Stiller's savagely amusing TROPIC THUNDER, another similarly themed industry satire that's as knee-slappingly funny as they come and (3) I'd love to see a documentary about the making of JURASSIC PARK: DOMINION during its obsessive COVID controlled sets.  I would screen that it a heartbeat over actually watching the next JURASSIC PARK sequel...or THE BUBBLE ever again, for that matter. 

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