Sometimes movies are released at the perfect moment in history. Other times there intentions are well but are given to us beyond the point. Judd Apatow’s latest unfortunately falls into the second category. The Bubble may be quite funny at times, but it also suffers from feeling like a satire that is already outdated. When we live during a time where we constantly need more information fed to us a comedy taking on the first big lockdown on the pandemic already feels like ten years ago. Thankfully these kinds of films actually age better than most believe at first because they will be a placeholder allowing us to laugh or cringe at the whole “I remember when” factor. None for his dramadies that focus on manchild stoners, The Bubble plays closer to some of the films Apatow produces rather than directs. Think less, Knocked Up and more Anchorman at its best and Year One at its worst. The Bubble being Apatow’s first film with Netflix also may the first comedy of theirs that knows its audience will be watching this on their laptops but that still does not mean one can’t deliver a comedy that is longer in runtime and less constricted to the usual boring Netflix comedies that are spurred out every week. Basically, it has a lot going for it even if it can’t be the total distraction from reality that it tries to be.
Actors are annoying as hell. While celebrating their talents can be fun, the reality behind their façade is usually less attractive and quite demeaning. As social media has becomes the basis of information many have quickly learned that their favorite celebrities say some pretty dumb shit when given the chance. Enter Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan continuing to show her amazing comedic skills) a successful lead of the Cliff Beasts franchise, a film series about…well giants dinosaur beasts who live on cliffs. Cobb opted out of the fifth installment and decided to go in a more dramatic route. However, choosing to star in Jerusalem Rising where she plays half Israeli and half Palestinian (when she is neither) did not make her the woke hero she set out to be. When Cliff Beasts 6 comes calling there is the begrudging decision that every actor must make, stick to what’s easy or realize I am a terrible actress. Oh and one more issue, since there is a global pandemic the entire Cliff Beasts cast and crew are required to film in a ‘bubble” scenario out in England. The rules are pretty simple for the bubble, no human contact, daily tests and masks at all times. Actually seems pretty easy compared to what the rest of the real world had to endure. The biggest obstacle will not be a global pandemic but a mansion full of egotistical monsters with little talent; the actors. The Bubble’s biggest strength is in its cast. There is Keegan-Michael Key as Sean Knox, a Vin Diesel-esque actor who loves to do his own starts and is starting his own religion, Leslie Mann as Lauren Van Chance and David Duchovny as Dr. Hal Packard both who are veterans on the film and also share an adoptive son together, and Gus Khan as Howie Frangopolous the comic relief of the film. All are familiar with the franchise and all have harbored anger towards one another. Throw in two new actors to the franchise, Tiktok sensation Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow) and Dieter Bravo (Pedro Pascal proving he is a comedic genius). Much like Tropic Thunder all of them have their own personal gains from Cliff Beasts 6 even if that is just avoiding becoming irrelevant.
For satire to work it must feel like the art knows that its in on the joke but never feeling above lowbrow humor. Sometimes it works (Tropic Thunder) sometimes it doesn’t (Don’t Look Up) but where The Bubble does well is in its decision to avoid narrative structure and instead plays out more like moments that would truly occur in this situation and stitched together to make a two hour film. Therefore, some jokes don’t land, but they are quickly faded away but moments that are truly hysterical. Seeing Pedro Pascal wander around a hotel room in a bathroom practically begging for sex beats out some other lesser moments involving studio heads (in the form of Kate McKinnon and John Lithgow) arguing via zoom meetings. It’s key jokes outside of the pandemic humor, if you will, is the notion that these actors believe they have it hard having to quarantine in a mansion hotel with a staff at their beck and call. How does a cast of spoiled actors entertain themselves during a pandemic? They get through it by breaking protocol, doing drugs, having sex, sneaking out and of course complaining about another actor stealing their spotlight.
Much like other Apatow films it is rising stars or complete unknowns who own the film. Maria Bakalova as Anika the hotel’s desk clerk has some wonderful moments leading and misleading Pascal’s Dieter Bravo. The real star in the making however is Harry Trevaldwyn as Gunther the Covid Safety Advisor. Trevaldwyn is what you call a perfect find, he gets the film’s biggest laughs and also some of the film’s heart amongst all the chaos. It is always refreshing to see a complete newcomer go against some major names and not only hold their own but steal the scenes.
It may be hard to watch The Bubble and not think we are past most of these situations and onto better (or much worse) realities. Jokes about mask wearing and the pain of getting a rapid test don’t work as well when the audience has come to their own terms on the matter. Yes this is definitely a movie with one major schtick often played out too much, but there is something interesting about humor where if you beat it to death enough it often comes back to life for one more laugh. Maybe its out of pity but it’s a laugh indeed. When The Bubble starts to hit a road too familiar Apatow uses his connections to bring in some truly hysterical cameos (one that may be the best I’ve seen in years. Add in some hysterically and purposely bad Tiktok dance numbers and your film is back on track. Whether it can hold up for everyone will be the big question, but for all the covid films that we have already and for all the ones we will soon get this finds a nice middle ground that will benefit from multiple watches, and as we move further away from this pandemic (hopefully) it will be something to look back on chuckle and keep moving forward.
THE BUBBLE will be released on Netflix April 1