Review: Overstuffed and Unfunny, The Bubble Fails to Make a Pandemic Production Entertaining

Apparently writer/director Judd Apatow and co-writer Pam Brady (Hot Rod, Hamlet 2, Team America) see the health-related restrictions put on film and television productions during the pandemic as creating both the safest place to work and the nuttiest. Their film The Bubble concerns just such a production, the franchise sequel Cliff Beasts 6, which is shot in a safe space in England where the cast and crew can live and work together in relative safety. Except not really, because everyone finds ways to be sneaky, leave the so-called bubble, and just generally act like self-important assholes while essentially being held hostage by a studio that just wants to finish its film and be one of the only tentpole movies in theaters when things start opening up again.

The result is easily Apatow’s worst movie, featuring an all-star cast that is caught flailing in their attempts to be the worst versions of themselves. Karen Gillan plays actress Carol Cobb, who skipped Cliff Beasts 5 and is concerned about how the rest of the cast will treat her when she comes back for this latest installation. Every performer playing a cast member in the production either decides to go full “insecure actor” or someone who is overly confident to the point of pompous and clueless. Carol is the former, and the fact that she left the franchise to do more substantial work, which then horribly backfired, hasn’t helped relieve her of her issues. Also in the cast are Leslie Mann as Lauren Van Chance, who has an on-again/off-again relationship with Dustin Mulray (David Duchovny). One of the only edgy things about this movie is that the couple have an adopted teenage son, whom they both hate so much but can’t admit it.

Keegan-Michael Key plays Sean Knox, another actor who has recently released a spiritual self-help book that basically forms the basis of a cult; Iris Apatow plays a TikTok superstar who was cast in the film to attract her millions of followers; Pedro Pascal is drugged-out actor Dieter Bravo, who wants nothing more than to stay in his room and attempt to have sex with an alluring hotel worker (Maria Bakalova); and Fred Armisen is the indie director (“I won Sundance”) who is being given his first chance to helm a big-budget movie and is in no mood to collaborate with his actors. Peter Serafinowicz plays the producer in charge of the production, and he’s the only character who feels even remotely realistic and isn’t overplaying his role to get our attention or make us laugh. He reports to the studio head (Kate McKinnon) via Zoom, and every time they speak, she’s in a different exotic location not being remotely COVID safe.

Probably my favorite character is that of the production’s health & safety coordinator Gunther (Harry Trevaldwyn), who effortlessly and quite preciously advises the team on protocols without ever really getting his point across because he’s too polite and starstruck. There’s a trippy sequence when many of the cast get high and start imagining things, and everyone sees Gunther as Benedict Cumberbatch, which is so bizarre and random it almost made me laugh…almost. The film also features a handful of cameos by the likes of John Cena (as stunt coordinator Steve, attempting and failing to do his job remotely); Maria Bamford as Krystal’s clueless mom; Beck (as Beck), attempting to entertain the masses to boost their morale; and James McAvoy as himself in maybe the only short scene that did make me laugh out-loud.

I wish I were kidding when I say almost nothing in this film made me laugh or registered that anything being said or demonstrated was clever or insightful about what the life of a quarantined actor has been like for the last two years. As strange as it may sound, the film feels like it’s made by people who have never been on a film set, which I know isn’t the case. That’s how misguided The Bubble is. There’s a catchy score by Andrew Bird, so I guess that counts as a positive, but it isn’t nearly enough to save this surprisingly abysmal work.

While watching the film, my mind started to wander, wondering how someone like Apatow could have gotten it so wrong. Maybe this is a subject that there isn’t enough distance from yet to really make fun of, or perhaps the idea that a studio would kidnap and perhaps even sacrifice actors in the name of getting a hit franchise movie made and released has been done to death. Instead of trying to be funny (there is so much trying in The Bubble), perhaps the filmmakers should have let things play out straight and believable, and it would have come across as something more like actual humor. Whatever the case, this one is truly dreadful, and with a more-than-two-hour running time, it might actually qualify as lethal.

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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