The Bubble review: Netflix comedy is a Covid-themed Saturday Night Live sketch stretched to two hours

Dir: Judd Apatow. Starring: Karen Gillen, David Duchovny, Leslie Mann, Pedro Pascal, Keegan-Michael Key, Iris Apatow, Gus Khan, Fred Armisen, Peter Serafinowicz, Maria Bakalova, Kate McKinnon. 126 min.

Can a pandemic be funny? That’s the question posed by Judd Apatow’s Bubble, a Netflix comedy about movie stars shooting a blockbuster during one. It joins a small, mostly undignified array of films that have tried to incorporate our last two years into their plots. Thankfully, Bubble isn’t as distasteful as Amazon’s “Covid-23” romance songbirdnor as terrible as the Anne Hathaway heist film locked down. Instead, it’s a fleetingly amusing but largely bad movie that just so happens to be about coronavirus. As far as Covid cinema goes, it’s a hit. As a comedy, it’s a disappointment.

Bubble is funniest in its opening stretch. Karen Gillan’s Carol Cobb was once the star of the Cliff Beasts franchise, a Jurassic Park simulacrum in which teams of scientists battle mutant dinosaurs on land, sea and – in at least one sequel – space. Eat Cliff Beasts 5, though, Carol was out, choosing instead to star in a disastrous, Oscar-baiting drama in which Israel and Palestine come together to fight aliens. Mid-pandemic and struggling for work, Carol is lured back for a sixth Cliff Beasts – Chapter 6: Battle for Everest: Memories of a Requiem. That’s despite her co-stars disliking her from her, and her role from her in the franchise having been usurped by a TikTok influencer (Iris Apatow) making her acting debut.

Carol joins her fellow cast and crew in an English countryside hotel for 14 days of quarantine, followed by a production that seems to go on forever – Covid repeatedly shuts the film down, studio executives bark demands via Zoom, there are drug overdoses, flings and exploding limbs. Freshly divorced franchise leads Lauren (Leslie Mann) and Dustin (David Duchovny) war over the nightmarish 16-year-old boy they just adopted; co-star Sean (Keegan-Michael Key) seems to be running a cult; method actor Dieter (Pedro Pascal) is still in an opioid haze from his last project; inexperienced director Darren (Fred Armisen) is coming off a Sundance hit about working at a DIY shop, and is miserable.

It’s a strong foundation. Bubble‘s script is credited to Apatow and Team America co-writer Pam Brady, and there are occasional flashes of barbed, satirical wit here. Generally, though, Bubble resembles a flutter of loose ideas, to which a vast ensemble of reliably funny actors have been tasked with adding colour. So you have Mann and Pescal doing wacky accents, Rob Delaney ranting about “Japanese taxi porn”, Harry Trevaldwyn – of viral Twitter fame – being strange and ethereal. Every scene is accidentally tense as a result, with the actors seemingly improvising their way through a comic set-up and only occasionally hitting on something that works. That feeling worsens as Bubble goes on. The reliably luminous Mann sadly exits at the film’s midpoint and a parade of subsequent celebrity cameos fall flat.

Most frustratingly, Bubble is the first Judd Apatow movie that doesn’t feel like a Judd Apatow movie. His brand of him – honed via comedies such as Knocked Up, Funny People and The King of Staten Island – is talky, slightly overlong, funny-sad cinema. They merge the Seventies melancholy of Elaine May with the Eighties neuroses of Albert Brooks and the Nineties gross-out of the Farrelly Brothers, all the while serenaded by a Seth Rogen chortle. Polarizing though they may be, Apatow’s films are heartfelt, clever and distinctly his. Bubble feels throwaway and devoid of warmth or character. It ends up being little more than a slight, sluggish Saturday night Live sketch stretched to more than two hours, with nary an Apatowian fingerprint to be found.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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