'The Bubble': A Disastrous Comedy That Never Pops
At a time where we are starting see the first films that were conceived and made during the COVID-19 pandemic, it doesn't come as much of a surprise that a movie like The Bubble was made. The film uses the pandemic as a key plot point and makes some jabs about how it has affected the filmmaking process, and how the industry has tried to stay afloat during this time. It's clearly a response to how many big-budget films have had their productions disrupted by COVID, and tries to filter it through a comedic lens. It also wants so badly to have its finger on the pulse of what's going on in the world, and pulls so much from recent events and trends. The film has rather lofty goals, and wants to be seen as a film for this particular moment in time, but it ends up feeling so dated, bland, and unfunny that it fails to accomplish any of this.
I will be the first to tell you that I like Judd Apatow's work more than most people do. While I don't think any of his more recent films have reached the heights of his earlier films such as The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, or Funny People, but I still find them rather enjoyable. Yes, his films tend to be way too long. Yes, some of them meander and take weird detours that don't always seem necessary. But when he hits, he hits. He is a pretty great comedy director, and he's not that bad of a writer either. However, he has such a specific style that sometimes doesn't translate as well to the stories that he tells. His films tend to be character driven comedies that have a looser, improvisational feel to them and are usually tied specifically to the star of the film. Funny People capitalizes on the persona of Adam Sandler, Trainwreck does the same thing with Amy Schumer, The King of Staten Island does this with Pete Davidson, and so on.The Bubble breaks from this trend in his work significantly, as it functions as an ensemble comedy that is much broader and wants to make a statement on how the pandemic has affected the entertainment industry. On paper, this could have been a fascinating exercise for Apatow to see what he can do with a different type of comedy, and what happens when he broadens his focus to do something a little bigger than what he normally does. In execution, it shows that maybe he should have just stuck to more of his usual schtick, as he tries to merge his trademark style with something that needs to be bigger and broader than what we see in the finished product. It's an almost spectacular failure, and a huge disappointment given the talent involved both on and off screen.
The film details the making of the 6th installment in the fictional Cliff Beasts series, and we are quickly introduced to a wide array of characters. There's the franchise's star who is returning to the series after declining to return for its 5th entry, the egotistic director who is brought on after his film was a hit at Sundance, a TikTok influencer who is only involved because of her large social media following, and a host of other caricatures of celebrities and industry workers. The production is troubled from the start, and the film tries to mine its comedy from the disasters that occur throughout it. The fact of the matter is that everything feels so thinly developed and has little substance. There are so many things that the film could be saying with its characters or its plot, but it seems to eschew these in favor of trying to be relevant. It makes references to COVID, with gags about nasal swabs, face shields, and quarantining scattered throughout. It also has not one but two TikTok dance sequences, which don't really add much to the film as a whole and come across as pandering. It wants so badly to be a film for our current times, but it feels so out of touch and doesn't have much to it that justifies why it should have been made in the first place.
It's no secret that Judd Apatow's films tend to run longer than they should. With the exception of The 40 Year Old Virgin, all of his films are over 2 hours long. While this is pretty standard for most movies, it is much rarer with comedies. This is a frequent criticism of Apatow's work, but I've grown to expect it from him at this point. Some of his films do feel like they could have been trimmed down a little, and The Bubble definitely falls into this category. The film is 126 minutes long, and it feels even longer when watching it. It easily could have ran at a tight 90 minutes, and it might have been better for it. This film just drags on and is rather disjointed due to the large amount of characters and plot threads that it tries to include. Everything feels so lazily constructed, and the film itself just feels boring. It tries to redeem itself in the third act with a big confrontation between the cast and crew, but it doesn't feel earned. There's hardly any build up to it, and we haven't got to know the characters well enough for certain moments to hit like Apatow is wanting them to. The film just jumps from character to character and moment to moment with little impact, and misses the opportunity to truly say anything substantial about the entertainment industry or the pandemic in general.
It doesn't help that the film squanders its cast, as there are a lot of great actors involved, yet they are so underutilized. Karen Gillan is fine, but her character feels so undeveloped. We're supposed to be rooting for her, but the film gives no real reason for us to care about the character, and she feels so bland as a result. Pedro Pascal feels somewhat dialed in as a manic, drug-addled actor, and makes it even clearer that he has a knack for playing eccentric characters. His character's arc, however, feels slapped together, and almost comes out of nowhere. I was intrigued when I saw David Duchovny first show up in this film, but he is practically sleepwalking here. I get that his character is a bit annoyed to be there, but it felt like Duchovny himself didn't want to be there either. Given that this is a Judd Apatow film, it's no shock that his wife, Leslie Mann, and his daughter, Iris Apatow are in this. Mann is decent, and may be one of the better performances in the movie. It's not her best work or anything, but the scenes where she is prominently featured are some of the film's better moments. As for Iris Apatow, she's not half-bad either, but it is funny to me that Judd Apatow cast his daughter as an influencer who is there because of her social media as opposed to her acting. The rest of the cast is okay, but none of them really shine here. What really frustrated me is that the film tries to paint the cast as having a family dynamic, but they don't ever feel close to each other. They feel so disparate from each other that they don't even feel like friends. They just feel like one-dimensional caricatures, and have such little chemistry together.
To say this film was a disappointment would be an understatement. It's not like I was expecting it to be incredible or anything, but I thought that with as many talented people that were involved in making this, that it would be much better than what we ended up with. The Bubble is a perfect example of how making a film that hinges on current events can backfire on you. It tries so hard to be relevant that it ends up feeling dated, and it is an absolute slog to get through. It makes almost every wrong decision it possibly could in the process, and misses the chance to really say something about the current state of entertainment. It's easily one of the worst pieces of media I've seen in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a colossal misfire on so many levels.