Netflix UK film review: The Bubble
James R | On 10, Apr 2022
Director: Judd Apatow
Cast: Karen Gillan, Iris Apatow, Fred Armisen, Maria Bakalova, Vir Das, David Duchovny, Samson Kayo, Keegan-Michael Key, Leslie Man, Pedro Pascal, Harry Trevaldwyn, Peter Serafinowicz
A group of actors have to bubble to make a film in The Bubble, Judd Apatow’s new film that was made by a group of actors who had to bubble to make it, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To some, that sentence will sound like an amusingly self-aware reflection on the experiences of the past couple of years. To others, it will sound like an eye-rolling exercise in indulgent self-absorption. The bad news is that, either way, they will likely be disappointed.
Things start off with potential, as a gaggle of familiar stars are roped into staying together at a remote country hotel to collaborate on Cliff Beasts 6, the latest in a long-running dinosaur franchise that hopes to distract the world from its pandemic-related worries. It’s at once ludicrous and all-too-plausible, with Peter Serafinowicz enjoying himself as a brusque, two-faced producer determined to do whatever it takes to get the film in the can and stop the actors from fleeing. It’s a knowing and timely snapshot of the pressures facing the film industry during the pandemic’s peak, both on a commercial, moral and practical level – the mentions of zones, testing and quarantining in hotel rooms will resonate with any cast and crew members who have been on a mid-Covid production.
Would any of them would want to watch a film retreading that stressful time? And would anyone outside of that world want to either? Judd Apatow and Pam Brady’s script can’t decide, and that lack of focus will leave most audience members bored by the halfway point.
The cast are an impressive bunch and do their best with the material. Karen Gillan is an A-lister hoping to be taken seriously, but returns to the Cliff Beasts series after a panned, misjudged drama called Jerusalem Rising; Leslie Mann is a demanding diva, co-starring opposite her on-off former husband Dustin (David Duchovny); Keegan-Michael Key is Sean, a stuntman who’s a little too enthusiastic and may or may not have started his own wellbeing cult; Guz Khan provides the comic relief as token comic relief actor Howie Frangopolous; Pedro Pascal is the smouldering, serious actor Dieter Bravo, and Iris Apatow is Krystal Kris, the TikTok influencer hired to appear to the kids. At the helm of Cliff Beasts 6 is a never knowingly underplayed Fred Armisen as Darren Eigan, a “visionary director” who veers between petty incompetence and overcooked ego.
There are moments of humour on offer, but Apatow doesn’t know which star cast member to focus on, leaving everything feeling muddled. It’s perhaps telling that the best moments come from the smaller parts, whether that’s Rob Delaney as Gillan’s slimy agent, Samson Kayo as the put-upon actors’ trainer, Harry Trevaldwyn as the perma-smiling production assistant or Maria Bakalova as smitten hotel worker Anika. It’s a treat to see the hilarious duo The Pin (Ben Ashenden and Alexander Owen) as motion-capture stand-ins trying to be dinosaurs against a giant green screen.
But even these fleeting moments of promise are soon forgotten in what becomes a never-ending, tired saga that doesn’t know when to stop, what to cut or where to look to find a decent joke. The result is a sketch that could have been a fun 30-minute romp, but becomes bloated and unfunny the more it’s stretched out to feature length. It might have been a fun project to make, but it emerges as an underwhelming effort that’s ironically stuck in its own little bubble.