There have only been a few times when a movie made me feel physically upset. A documentary about a double murder, a mockumentary that was supposed to expose racial biases in America, and Judd Apatow’s The Bubble.
As an avid fan of its cast, I looked forward to this comedy adventure, going in with a mind as open as the outdoor dining I’ve endured for the past two years. But what I found ranged from “knowingly privileged” to “frankly offensive.” This isn’t just a miss for Apatow — it’s his Cats. It’s not just a flop; it’s soon to be a staple of your bad movie night.
Pandemic Year 3
The Bubble’s premise is simple. A group of celebrities must isolate themselves to film the sixth movie in a fictional dinosaur action franchise, Cliff Beasts, but hilarity ensues as security increases and viruses spread. The characters are what you expect from any show business satire — the drug fiend, the wellness guru, the influencer — but the movie treats them like the most victimized people on the planet.
This is a major problem considering how the Covid-19 pandemic has killed more than a million people. Why is it being used as comedy fodder among characters — and a filmmaker — who are all incredibly privileged? The pandemic has caused worse problems than just delaying and complicating movie production. And even then, there are plenty of other areas to explore in relation to the film industry.
The timing of this movie doesn’t sit well too. As Covid-19 cases still rise in different parts of the world, The Bubble oddly seems to be treating the pandemic with a sense of nostalgia — as if it’s in the past and not part of our present reality.
Imagine All The People
While the vision of The Bubble may be short-sighted, the cast is excellent. A big-name director like Apatow is sure to attract some stellar names, and this feature surrounding an action franchise even pulled some experienced IP actors, like Karen Gillan and Pedro Pascal, fresh from the Disney machines of Star Wars and Marvel. David Duchovny plays the experienced “protector of the franchise,” and Keegan Michael-Key brings a woo-woo, Jared-Leto-esque vibe to the ensemble.
Because the hotel where the cast is staying is in the UK, there’s also some top-tier British talent. Guz Khan and Samson Kayo shine, just as they did in the HBO comedy, Our Flag Means Death. Newcomer Harry Trevaldwyn all but secures a career as a character actor. Even Alex Owen and Ben Ashenden, best known as UK alt-comedy duo The Pin, play the green-screen actors who provide “sightlines” for the Cliff Beasts. The highlight of the cast, without question, is Maria Bakalova, who proved she can spin comedy gold out of anything, from Borat 2’s hilarious improv to this.
Of course, an “all-star cast” doesn’t necessarily mean a faultless one. It’s hard to ignore Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann and daughter Iris (she’s not the one who’s in Euphoria, that’s Maude), who both have starring roles that suit them well. The most glaring flaw is Fred Armisen, who plays a Sean Baker-esque iPhone filmmaker who now is taking on a blockbuster. In his shaggy wig, he feels like a Portlandia character implanted into the plot.
And the Zoom cameos — oh, the Zoom cameos. Apatow almost found a way to cram even more celebrities into this movie than Gal Gadot’s “Imagine” video. Kate McKinnon, Daisy Ridley, John Cena, and Rob Delaney are just a few who appear in the film. The cameos vary in success: Maria Bamford has an incredible moment as TikTok star Kristal Kris’ midwestern mom, but another cameo by a musician had me rolling my eyes.
Be Our Guest
As seen in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, Judd Apatow is definitely a director with a specific style. But The Bubble is unlike any of those films. Instead of pursuing his style, the tone is more like one of Christopher Guest’s iconic mockumentaries, like Best in Show or Waiting for Guffman. Characters have their own disparate storylines that intersect, and it all culminates in an epilogue showing what happened to them in the months after.
But where Guest movies differ is in how they follow “normal” people who aren’t usually the center of attention, like small-town theater directors or dog breeders — not directors and stars of multi-million dollar blockbusters. The point of those movies is to highlight relatable characters for everyone, not just world-famous directors.
The characters and jokes in The Bubble may be familiar to Judd Apatow but not to a broader Netflix audience. When Maria Bakalova’s character coos, “I’m going to live in your house in Beverly Hills,” and someone replies, “Actually, I live in Sherman Oaks!” that’s funny to people “in the business,” not for viewers at home. Most people don’t know what it’s like to make a movie before or during a pandemic, so we’re never in on the joke.
At Least We Tried
One of the last moments in the movie has Fred Armisen’s character, the director of Cliff Beasts 6, commenting how they at least tried to make a movie and offered something to distract people during this difficult time. But is The Bubble really distracting its audience? It was more of a reminder of the horrible effects this virus has had on us and the extreme discrepancies between the pandemic experiences of the average Netflix viewer and the average Judd Apatow cast member.
It’s not like you can’t make a comedy about the pandemic. Look at shows like Superstore or Mythic Quest, which told stories of essential workers and people working from home. They weren’t about a bunch of Hollywood actors playing Hollywood actors “suffering” in a fancy hotel. There are staff members in the cast — what are their lives like? We never find out.
Maybe the best way to tell the story of show business in “these difficult times” is to simply... not. In a couple of decades, The Bubble may be interesting in hindsight, but for now, it just feels like a worldwide crisis was merely screenplay fodder for Judd Apatow.
At the very least, we now have our indisputable Worst Movie of 2022, and it’s unlikely to be dethroned.
The Bubble premieres on Netflix April 1, 2022.