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

Most frustratingly, ‘The Bubble’ is the first Judd Apatow movie that doesn’t feel like a Judd Apatow movie

Adam White
Thursday 31 March 2022 14:42 BST
The Bubble

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

Can a pandemic be funny? That’s the question posed by Judd Apatow’s The 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, The Bubble isn’t as distasteful as Amazon’s “Covid-23” romance Songbird, nor 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.

The 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. Come 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, and her role in the franchise having been usurped by a TikTok influencer (Iris Apatow) making her acting debut.

Carol joins her fellow cast and crew in a 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. The 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, The 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 The 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, The Bubble is the first Judd Apatow movie that doesn’t feel like a Judd Apatow movie. His brand – 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. Polarising though they may be, Apatow’s films are heartfelt, clever and distinctly his. The 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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