'The Bubble' Is a Bust

Directed by Judd Apatow

Karen Gillan, Fred Armisen, David Duchovny, Leslie Mann, Pedro Pascal, Kate McKinnon, Keegan-Michael Key, Iris Apatow, Guz Khan

Photo: Laura Radford / Netflix

BY Alex HudsonPublished Apr 4, 2022


After more than two years of the pandemic, and with everyone currently de-masking and pretending that the whole thing is over, it's difficult to imagine a less appealing movie pitch than a parody of how Hollywood adapted to COVID restrictions on movie sets. Maybe someday, jokes about washing groceries and touching elbows instead of shaking hands will seem funny. But 2022 is not that time, and The Bubble is a mind-numbing retread of concepts that felt novel in March 2020. 

A bit like Tropic Thunder for the pandemic era, The Bubble follows a cast of pampered Hollywood stars as they make a cash-grab blockbuster called Cliff Beasts 6. They quarantine together in a fancy hotel in the English countryside, forming a bubble, which was something people did when this movie was shot in early 2021. 

With better execution, The Bubble might have been an example of how limitations breed creativity, forcing director/co-writer Judd Apatow and his collaborators to find inventive ways of working within pandemic restrictions. Instead, Apatow takes the assignment in the most literal way possible, making a pandemic-era movie about making a pandemic-era movie — an ouroboros of unfunny jokes. 

One might assume that a lockdown would have given Apatow time to really hunker down with his script and iron out all the kinks. Instead, The Bubble's comedy feels distinctly improvised — not in the sense that it's spontaneous, but rather that it's directionless and without punchlines. The "jokes" about nasal swabs being uncomfortable consist of nothing more than people wincing while Q-tips get stuck up their nose; or the ones about social distancing, which involve people awkwardly doing air-hugs from six feet apart; same goes for a bit about glitchy Zoom calls, which is just John Cena struggling to remotely lead the cast through stunts. These moments barely count as parody — they're just unwanted reminders of some of the persistent irritations of the past two years. 

The star-studded cast includes Karen Gillan, Fred Armisen, David Duchovny, Leslie Mann, Pedro Pascal, Kate McKinnon and Keegan-Michael Key (plus cameos from Beck, Daisy Ridley, Benedict Cumberbatch, James McAvoy and John Lithgow). Rather than adding to the film's appeal, the presence of so many stars only contributes to the sense of smug self-indulgence, as these famous funny people set the comedic bar way too low. Rather than being a source of comfort in difficult times — which is how The Bubble explicitly refers to itself — it feels a bit like Gal Gadot's version of "Imagine," minus the laughs.


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