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The Bubble movie review: Sparkling satire gets lost in a bloated Judd Apatow comedy

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“It’s going to make the world forget all their problems,” says the director of the fictional film at the centre of Judd Apatow’s latest comedy, The Bubble (his first movie for Netflix). It’s an introduction that tells us that this one’s constructed solely to entertain and make us laugh. At a time when the comedy genre is (wonderfully) expanding and evolving into all manner of feelings and narratives, it’s reassuring to watch one that just wants to make you feel giddy. (Also read: Don’t Look Up movie review: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence headline a superb satire on climate change)

Co-written by Pam Brady, Apatow’s meta-comedy follows a group of actors stuck inside a pandemic bubble at a London hotel, attempting to complete a seemingly endless film as they gradually lose their minds in the face of endless restrictions, repeated quarantine isolations, and no contact with the outside world. The fictional movie in question is Cliff Beasts 6, the latest iteration of a tired monster-fighting franchise that a movie studio has placed all its bets on to keep it afloat.

Let’s meet our cast. There’s starlet Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan who continues to prove you can slot her in any genre). Carol desperately needs a win after the unanimous panning of her last film Jerusalem Rising, an alien invasion movie in which she played a half Israeli half Palestinian character. “I was just trying to create a piece of art that might help solve the issue?” she says (I cry-laughed out loud). There’s the newly divorced, constantly squabbling couple Dustin Mulray (David Duchovny) and Lauren Van Chance (Leslie Man). “Our main priority is our 16-year-old son who we just adopted right before the divorce” explains Lauren while discussing her divorce with a fellow actor.

There’s the Cliff Beasts franchise’s token comic relief actor Howie Frangopolous (the always loveable Guz Khan playing a heightened version of himself). The hilariously crabby Khan gets all the best lines and there’s never a moment the film isn’t made immediately funnier by him busting out a one-liner or ridiculous overreaction (cast Khan in everything please). There’s also the always wonderful Keegan-Michael Key as pretentiously people-pleasing movie star Sean Knox whose primary objective is indoctrinating people into his “lifestyle brand slash motivation system” (it’s not a cult, as he repeatedly and frequently reminds us). Rounding off the lead cast is the jaded Oscar-winning-actor-who’s-too-good-for-this-shit Dieter Bravo (Pedro Pascal) and they-cast-for-her-youths-followers Tik Tok star Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow who nails the shallow emptiness of being a digital influencer).

Vir Das and Maria Bakalova in The Bubble.

Here to manage the tantrums and insecurities of the deluded is the movie’s producer (a delightfully heartless Peter Serafinowicz). “Actors are animals. Your job is to be animal handlers”, he tells the staff of the hotel whose entire job it is to pamper the actors and cater to their every whim. The hotel staff is made up of a sparkling mix of comedic stars-in-the-making including Death to 2020’s Samson Kayo, Borat 2’s Maria Bakalova, Harry Trevaldwyn, and our very own Vir Das, all of whom frequently outshine The Bubble’s lead cast.

The initial portions of Apatow’s film, which introduces us to the roster of charmingly delusional actors and their predicament, is an absolute blast that keeps you laughing through its biting satire about the inherently ridiculous nature of movie stars and franchise filmmaking. (The Bubble’s opening scenes did more for me as a scathing takedown of franchise-fuelled Hollywood than last year’s subtext-soaked Matrix Resurrections which was clearly aimed at viewers with more depth and larger frontal lobes than me).

But after this confident first leg, the satire sags, the comedy weans and the energy slackens. After a point, The Bubble has little left to say beyond its repetitive anxious-frustrated-horny-actors-held-captive-by-a-selfish-studio premise. Most of the inspired laughs and enjoyable gags bookend the film, with everything in between – the lion’s share of its two-hour run time (and you really feel the length) – feeling lifeless and offering little to keep you engaged. It almost starts to feel like we, the audience, are stuck in the same repetitive, dull slog as the characters on screen. The movie they’re making, and the one we’re watching just seems to go on and on with no end in sight (which you could argue is some cool, intentional meta decision, but in reality, it’s just exhausting).

What we’re left with, then, is an inconsistent mixed bag of scenes and characters whose individual parts (I see you Guz Khan) are far greater than their sluggish sum. The Bubble is arguably the least Judd Apatow Judd Apatow movie yet. One of the most celebrated comedy storytellers of his generation, even when they don’t make us laugh, Apatow’s films always make us feel for flawed, barely-functioning adults who learn the error of their ways and work towards becoming better. While The Bubble certainly offers this in principle, I never felt for any of its characters, who seem constructed for punchlines over depth.

The Bubble certainly doesn’t do much to help us process the insanity of the last two years, which is fine. It’s designed to offer laughs. But its greatest tragedy is that, despite its intentions, it does little to distract us from it.

The Bubble
Director: Judd Apatow
Cast: Karen Gillan, Pedro Pascal, Davind Duchonvy and others



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