The Bubble is a huge mess, but it's a funny mess. Director Judd Apatow goes a different direction from the human-centered comedy of his most recent films This Is 40, The King of Staten Island and Trainwreck. This time, he gives us a big, broad, cartoon of a movie. There are too many characters and too many things going on all at once, yet a good deal of it made me laugh. And in a way, the messiness benefits the story, which mixes Hollywood blockbuster spoofery with a look at how crazy the Covid quarantine made so many of us feel.
Carol Cobb (Karen Gillen) starred in a popular dinosaur-themed action movie series called Cliff Beasts. She sat out the fifth entry, opting to make a “serious” picture instead. It tanked hard, leaving her to take the brunt of the blame. Her manager convinces her to come back for the sixth installment. Carol reluctantly agrees. Before filming can begin, she and her co-stars must hole up in a London hotel for two weeks in order to create a Covid-free “bubble” that will allow production to proceed safely. Those fourteen days in solitude are hellish. They do, however, seem like a cake-walk compared to the drama on-set.
The cast and crew of Cliff Beasts are colorful to say the least. They include the producer (Peter Serafinowicz) determined to shoot during a pandemic; the leading man (David Duchovny) looking to rekindle the relationship with his leading lady/ex-wife (Leslie Mann); the TikTok star (Iris Apatow) brought in to lure younger viewers; the director (Fred Armisen) who doesn't seem to realize he's making schlock; the co-star (Keegan-Michael Key) who's feeling the physical effects of too much on-screen action; and the eccentric Robert Downey, Jr.-type actor (Pedro Pascal) more concerned with bedding the hotel's front desk clerk (Maria Bakalova) than with making a film.
The Bubble makes hilarious fun of Hollywood's current “brand” obsession. We can clearly see that whatever inspiration the Cliff Beasts series might have had is now gone. What Carol and her fellow stars are forced to shoot is, to put it politely, insipid. That girl who's a TikTok phenom? Her character teaches a dinosaur dance moves to avoid getting eaten. Over-reliance on FX, stretching out stories when there's nowhere left to go, and attempting to figure out what will please fans are all fodder for comedy. On occasion, the film aims at low-hanging fruit. More often than not, though, the jabs at the sequel mentality hit the target.
The Covid stuff is a bit iffier. A montage of everyone going nuts while locked in their hotel rooms is humorous, and a bit where someone tests positive, requiring another two-week quarantine, leads to amusing frustration for the actors. Other times, The Bubble goes too broad. When the producer brings in a security team to prevent the stars from escaping – and they set up a laser grid in front of the hotel – credibility is strained to the breaking point. The mixture of Hollywood satire and Covid comedy isn't always smooth, either. At times, it feels like Apatow is jamming two completely different movies together.
Aside from those flaws and a general sense of being overstuffed with characters, each of whom needs to have at least one big comic highlight, The Bubble does have some moments of hilarity, terrific performances from the ensemble cast (with Apatow's daughter Iris being the scene-stealer), and observations about pandemic life that ring a few bells. It isn't a great picture, and it's certainly not the director's best work. But again, I laughed fairly regularly. When you're talking about comedy movies, that's all that really matters.
The Bubble is available on Netflix.
out of four
The Bubble is rated R for language throughout, sexual content, drug use and some violence. The running time is 2 hours and 6 minutes.