I held out hope after the bad reviews. I even held out hope after the horrible trailers. And there was some basis in that hope: Judd Apatow has, in the past, delivered unlikeable characters that still resonated with me. He has tapped into deep wells of big-hearted humanity masked by petulance. Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and especially Funny People managed to take cliched premises and off-putting protagonists and forge them into something enlightening. (I should also note I never caught up with Apatow’s next three films, so my perspective of him as a director is a bit outdated.)
Unfortunately, The Bubble fails in pretty much everything it strives to do. It is not funny. It has no likeable characters. The premise, while vaguely interesting, is stuffed with hackneyed gags and plot twists. Even the occasional quasi-fun bits are so drowned out by the cacophonous disaster around them that they wither, the movie impatiently jumping to the next uninspired bit.
The Bubble tells the story of a disastrous COVID-era movie shoot. The actors and crew are confined to a “bubble” where they can neither leave the set nor allow others in. On paper, it has promise: a bottle episode comedy of different over-the-top personalities clashing and getting into trouble and ultimately thriving. But it never clicks. First of all, the scenario is never even fully grounded. There are too many characters appearing and disappearing, plus little, confusing wrinkles for the notion of “the bubble” to ever properly feel claustrophobic. (One actress starts a fling with a pro athlete who is staying at the on-set hotel because… why? Isn’t it sealed off? No idea.)
More fundamentally, the problem with The Bubble is that it depicts with a straight face the very thing it seeks to spoof: The toxic privilege of wealthy celebrities in a world crushed by a global pandemic. Pointing to the thing and saying it exists is not the same as parody or satire. It’s as if the Gal Gadot “Imagine” video were a two-hour comedy.
If it were funny at all, it might be okay, but nearly nothing is. Take Leslie Mann and David Duchovny’s characters. We learn in an opening scene that during the filming of every movie in the in-film Cliff Beasts franchise (they’re filming number six, I think) they fight for awhile, but eventually hook up. This time, though, they swear they are 100% through. They even got married and subsequently divorced while filming the last movie, so there’s a lot of baggage. Except… they end up hooking up within a few scenes, despite their initial promises not to. Who could have seen that coming? And that’s it! That’s the full development of the joke! There’s nothing else there!
Almost none of the actors are able to cohere their scattershot characters, with stakes and personality traits resetting every other scene in this absolute clusterfuck of a screenplay. The lone exception is Pedro Pascal, who is doing a Mark Ruffalo low-key doof riff, and it actually works. There’s a runner about him being so desperate for sex that he asks about a dozen characters to sleep with him in a sort of detached, annoyed monotone, like he’s asking if anyone has any ibuprofen he can use to take care of a headache. It’s genuinely funny. Too bad nobody keeps up with him.
Poor Karen Gillan might have it worst of all. The movie can’t decide if she’s the grounded one of the bunch or if she’s just as spoiled as the rest of them. A better version of this movie would explore that slippery slope to narcissism — hell, Funny People basically tackled that exact dynamic in the relationship between Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler. But in The Bubble, Gillan just seems like a different character with every new line that comes out of her mouth. I usually like her, but her performance here is a catastrophe.
One of the film’s gimmicks is showing the SFX-ed version of a scene of the movie they’re filming (which appears to be a Jurassic Park knockoff) as the shot on the set goes horribly wrong. I would have happily forgiven the implausibility of on-the-fly post-production effects if The Bubble had used the premise for anything of value. But the gimmick is not only not used in any funny or clever ways, it actually detracts from the movie, specifically because a shocking bit of violent slapstick around the film’s halfway point had me confused if we were watching “reality” or the fake movie in SFX. By the time I figured out that it was supposed to be real, the gag had lost its sense of bewildering surprise, destroying any shot it had at being the movie’s lone subversive gag. (A drug overdose late in the film fares slightly better on the darkly-comic front, but only slightly.)
The Bubble just a half-assed waste of time chucking spaghetti at the wall and hoping something sticks. Only a couple greasy strands do. It feels so much longer than its 127 minutes. To close, I’m going to borrow a line from my friend Chris’s Letterboxd review of the film, which pretty much sums it up:
At one point, I looked at the time, and was stunned to learn there were 65 minutes remaining in the movie. And then 35 minutes later, I looked at the time again to see there were 57 minutes remaining.
- Review Project: 2022: Year in Film