Two years into the pandemic, filmmakers will completely ignore our current reality, subtly integrate it (like Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Joachim Trier’s latest), or tackle it head-on. With The bubble, a film about making a movie that barely feels like a movie, Judd Apatow leaves nothing to chance in the mining comedy of every new COVID-induced social peculiarity. But rather than being provocative and daring in its humor –– Radu Jude may not have left much else on the table in this regard –– the film ends up feeling like a half-baked version. spirit and lighter than Thunder in the tropicsdelivering a barrage of humor scattered across finely sketched characters that jump from skit to skit with very little to grasp.
Inspired by the actual pandemic production of the next Jurassic World Dominionthe film within the film is Cliff Beasts 6: The Battle of Everest: Requiem Memories, a payday for everyone involved. Set amid the lavish hotel the cast and crew are quarantined in, along with green-screen sets, we step into the story through actress Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan), who hopped on Cliff Beasts 5 but after a career spiral returns to dino-fueled franchise fodder. Wrestling with their own insecurities about star power and aging in Hollywood, the ensemble includes on-and-off flames and franchise mainstays Dustin Mulray (David Duchovny) and Lauren Van Chance (Leslie Mann); the serious actor Dieter Bravo (Pedro Pascal), seeking to get fucked every chance he gets; action star Sean Knox (Keegan-Michael Key), who may have recently started his own cult; comic relief Howie Frangopolous (Guz Khan) and TikTok icon Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow), ticking a required studio demographic.
Try as this set might, the few laughs mostly come from behind the camera on production as the creative forces attempt to save a disaster tent pole. Never-unfunny Fred Armisen plays Darren Eigan, a director who rocketed to the big leagues after directing the short ‘Tiles of Love’ while working at Home Depot – a humorous nod to Hollywood brass of today who pick the controllable talents they can bend to their whims to tackle the latest blockbuster. Keeping everything in order, the straight-faced producer (Peter Serafinowicz) responds to studio head Paula (Kate McKinnon), who may not be as savage as Les Grossman, but is better at cracking jokes, zooming in at lavish venues showing her elite privilege as the world suffers from the pandemic.
Break away The King of Staten Islandwhich – shot on 35mm by Robert Elswit – at least looked like a real movie, The bubbleCinematographer Ben Smithard’s faded digital sheen adds a bland aesthetic to the already lengthy proceedings. All of this wouldn’t be such a blatant issue if the jokes worked, but the hit-and-miss ratio is the most unfavorable of Apatow’s career. Co-written with Pam Brady (hot rod, South Park), extended(?) gags about TikTok––yes, with full dance sequences as if shot on the app––present themselves as little more than attempts to fill runtime . Jokes featuring COVID testing and pent-up quarantine anxieties exhaust their welcome after the first go-around, some ten minutes later. While the very conceit is to show various trials and tribulations of overly prolonged filming caused by the new, formal era of film productions, The bubble pulls together very little insight, ticking the obvious boxes and coming across as more exhausting than entertaining.
Tracks work – an underutilized Maria Bakalova, in one of her early post-Borat roles, stands out as she faces Dieter’s advances; there are some laughs seeing Carol deal with a crumbling relationship at home with no way to intervene; Dustin values this franchise more than his newly adopted son – but The bubblethe vast majority play like day to night for Dummies. The comedy can certainly be pulled from the weird new world we find ourselves in, but Apatow’s project is a meta-experiment in search of purpose beyond a few rare laughs.
The bubble arrives on Netflix on Friday, April 1.