By Josh Reilly B.
Writer and director Judd Apatow is no stranger to comedic projects, having worked on and been directly involved in the likes of Knocked Up, Girls, Pineapple Express, and, more recently, The King of Staten Island. Throughout his filmography, Apatow displays ability to fuse comedy with serious circumstances, as highlighted by 2009’s Funny People, where Adam Sandler’s character is diagnosed with cancer but retains a sense of humor throughout. Pete Davidson’s semi-fictionalized The King of Staten Island is another example of this, as Apatow included lighthearted moments in an otherwise serious story about a young man navigating life with mental illness.
Apatow’s latest film, The Bubble, which he made for Netflix and features an all star cast, is no different. Set in the initial stages of the pandemic, The Bubble follows a team of actors, filmmakers, and crew workers as they all quarantine together while making a movie titled Cliff Beasts 6, a play on the Jurassic World franchise. Here, the jokes are free flowing with the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and a world that was yet to get vaccines. The characters get into a variety of strange situations amidst unprecedented times and the absurdity of putting people’s lives on the line (as they take to the extreme) to make a movie becomes apparent as the film goes on.
As stated, Apatow assembled a great cast that includes Karen Gillan, Keegan Michael Key, Pedro Pascal, David Duchovny, Leslie Mann, Iris Apatow, Fred Admisen, and more, along with a few unannounced familiar faces that audiences are certain to recognize. Broadly speaking, The Bubble does a relatively good job to balance of these performers and their characters. The film is set in one hotel and film lot and features dozens of famous faces, but they all get their chance to shine. Particular highlights of the ensemble include David Duchovny, most known for his work on The X-Files but has also made the foray into comedy before with his Emmy-winning Showtime series Californiacation. Duchovny is the elder statesman of the group, referring to himself as “the guardian” of the Cliff Beasts franchise and takes it upon himself to rewrite mass portions of the script. Fans of the behind the scenes stories of The X-Files will enjoy this in particular, as Duchovny acted as a ghost writer for many episodes and was said to often be rewriting pages in his trailer between takes. Of course, Duchovny did this in order to improve each episode and the series more broadly, but that his character turns into a wannabe screenwriter in this film is a humorous, satirical callback of sorts to that.
Pedro Pascal is another actor who shines in The Bubble as he plays Dieter Bravo, an aloof performer who also happens to be a drug addict and an overall strange individual. Pascal’s character takes hard drugs in the film, yet goes on to refuse to wear a tracking device as he doesn’t want the airwaves to corrupt his body in an incredibly ironic and funny moment. Pascal’s Bravo is meant to represent some of the more problematic actors of the past that caused production issues on their projects due to their off-camera behavior, so having him essentially misbehave amidst a pandemic and strict rules imposed upon him results in some humorous situations.
The Bubble is funny and does a good job at its main goal to make audiences laugh, but it fails to capitalize on its incredibly unique premise as much as it could. Many of the early jokes in particular fall flat, and although the film does get better as it goes along, there’s an aura of missed opportunity to it all. Audiences’ appetite for an early pandemic set film, in which fears of the virus that very much remain today with the majority of the public are on full display, might disappear after The Bubble. It ultimately seems a toss up as to whether or not viewers would want to watch something like this again, especially as the pandemic continues into the future, as people might opt for a pure distraction of sorts rather than a very real, albeit comedic, outing.
Certain actors like Duchovny and Pascal, two of the main highlights of the film, don’t appear as much as they could, which seems like another missed opportunity that contributes to the overall feeling that Apatow and co. don’t capitalize fully on the amazing premise they conceived of. That one might be left wanting more of Duchovny and Pascal come the end of the film is, in part, an issue with the ensemble. While it’s great to see so many familiar faces, there’s an argument to be made that the sheer size of the cast means that no one really gets a chance to shine as much as they deserve, which is incredibly unfortunate given the immense talent on display.
The Bubble isn’t quite as good as its premise might suggest, but is still an entertaining and fun viewing. Pedro Pascal and David Duchovny are the two main highlights of a massive ensemble that, while talented, might also have benefited from some trimming down.