Despite putting in the effort, I’ve never been all that high on the comedies of producer, director, and screenwriter Judd Apatow. I know several of his movies have legions of loyal followers, and I can certainly respect that. But for some reason his brand hasn’t always clicked for me. But comedy is arguably the most subjective genre in cinema which is a good reason why talents like Apatow have enjoyed successful careers.
Then you have “The Bubble”, Apatow’s new comedy for Netflix that could very well stretch that above-mentioned subjectivity to its limits. This COVID-era clunker attempts to riff on everything from the pandemic to Hollywood celebrity status. But it ends up being a scattershot mess that’s so full of itself that it’s completely unaware of how unfunny it is. And that’s a shame because there are some fun names attached to the cast.
Written by Apatow and Pam Brady, “The Bubble” chronicles the making of a movie during the COVID-19 pandemic. It attempts to find humor in nearly every pandemic mandate and protocol that so many of us endured as much of the world basically went into shutdown. It pokes fun at masks, social distancing, quarantines, COVID tests, etc. In the process it inadvertently manages to make light of many of the mental health consequences many people (especially those in less privileged circumstances) suffered through – isolation, loneliness, depression, etc.
The story is about the making of “Cliff Beasts 6”, the latest installment of the 23rd most popular franchise of all-time. With its hefty $100 million budget, the corny creature-feature is set to be the first major production shot during the pandemic. The producer Gavin (Peter Serafinowicz) gathers his movie’s motley cast together at a ritzy English countryside hotel where they will all stay together for the duration of the shoot. It’s within this supposedly safe production bubble that we spend the bulk of the film’s grueling two hour-plus running time.
Among the “Cliff Beasts 6” cast is Carol (Karen Gillan), a struggling actress coming off a controversial flop. She agrees to come back to the franchise in hopes of rejuvenating her career. Dieter (Pedro Pascal) is a hedonistic veteran actor. Dustin (David Duchovny) is the film’s self-absorbed lead. There’s Lauren (Leslie Mann) who has a kid with Dustin. Sean (Keegan-Michael Key) is a wellness guru and cult leader wannabe. Howie (Guz Khan) is the film’s not too funny comic relief. And Krystal (Iris Apatow) is a newcomer and a TikTok sensation who’s mainly cast because of her massive social media following. Fred Armisen plays Darren, the lucky director who has to make a movie out of all of this nonsense.
From there Apatow throws in a parade of cameos that includes James McAvoy, John Cena, Daisy Ridley, and a handful of others. None of them add much other than a few familiar faces. But the movie ends up needing A LOT more than that to cover its flaws. The seemingly endless parade of bad jokes and dumb dialogue equals a movie desperately flailing for any laugh it can get.
Calling “The Bubble” uneven seems too kind. It’s actually a haphazard mishmash of bad gags, bad characters, and bad energy. And at over two hours, this insufferable slog will test even the most devoted Apatow fan’s patience. There’s probably a good idea for a movie lost somewhere in “The Bubble”, but I’m not willing to endure a second sitting to see if I can find it. “The Bubble” is now streaming on Netflix.