Director: Judd Apatow
Stars: Karen Gillan, Keegan-Michael Key, Pedro Pascal
Judd Apatow became known for a string of affable, overlong but justifiably loved comedies, but that’s all over now. In one fell swoop we’re invited to watch as his credibility is visibly eroded. Running a little over two hours and missing even a single grace note, The Bubble makes unintentional cringe comedy out of celebrity privilege and stinks of a rush-job at every conceivable turn. And it probably won’t kill his career anyway. But it should.
Here, the cast and crew of a blockbuster franchise called Cliff Beasts reunite during lockdown to begin principal photography on the sixth in their series, ‘bubbling’ together somewhere in the English heartland. Quickly we’re introduced to an array of basic caricatures. Peter Serafinowicz is a shitty two-faced producer! David Duchovny is a washed-up sex addict! Iris Apatow is a candy-brained TikTok star! Karen Gillan is… Scarlett Johansson basically?! Leslie Mann, Pedro Pascal and more fill-out the group in roles that seem to have been given even less thought.
Players on the peripheries fare better. The likes of Guz Khan, Samson Kayo and Harry Trevaldwyn are guiltless. Most of the principals, however, seem as though they’re here paying off their mortgage, or fulfilling some other debt. Deliveries often feel forced, strained or otherwise constricted. Mind you, the cutting suggests that shooting was an improv festival. The material that makes up The Bubble resembles a desperate harvest from an undisciplined shoot. Life imitating art, I suppose.
Apatow uses the set-up for an endless procession of obvious pot-shots at modern culture, creating a tone akin to the “how you doin’, fellow kids” punch-down mentality evident throughout Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up. But a lot worse. The two movies are spiritually connected. Both feel like the products of aging white men grasping for cultural zeitgeist, pandering as they openly condescend.
Cliff Beasts and its quip-ridden, gobbledegook dialogue faithfully sends up the miles of shit that the MCU and it’s brethren have normalised, seemingly a midpoint between Jurassic World and Eternals. The heartless and unimaginative machinations of blockbuster filmmaking at least get a good thwacking here. But the tone is half-hearted and wearying, as though the battle is over and this kind of filmmaking is all there is; inescapable and literally endless. The thought is more depressing than funny.
Most of the remainder is an interminable compilation of the same joke; being in quarantine makes narcissistic actors horny. Or maybe they’re just horny anyway. I’m all for a return to sexiness in movies, but this ain’t that. The Bubble puts Gillan, Pascal, Mann and Duchovny through several demeaning ‘comedy’ couplings. Desperation indeed. That or they’re being sick on one another, or having to piss themselves on camera., while the unnecessary cameos pile up like spider-men. The cursed ghost of Movie 43 springs to mind. Yeah, that’s the level we’re at here.
As the days of shooting turn into weeks, so The Bubble comes to feel endless. In this, I suppose it is effective, rekindling the feeling of interminable lockdown and the dispiriting idea that the ‘new normal’ might never end. Wait, isn’t a breezy comedy movie supposed to make you feel better, or help you escape? The Bubble is both too soon and really, really not good enough. An indulgent love-in. An Oscars skit that outstays it’s welcome by approximately 110 minutes.
“The safest place in the world right now is a film set” – a line in a film hastily shot during the time when Alec Baldwin accidentally killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins with a gun on a film set. Don’t mistake this observation for taking offence; the only offence is how indicative this line is of the overall laziness and lack of wider thought across The Bubble. Any vague commentary on how people are casually mistreated in Hollywood is at best accidental, at worst flippant and dismissive.
“This is a shitshow,” notes peripheral character Carla (Galen Hopper) with a so-over-it sigh.