Judd Apatow’s The Bubble answers an interesting question about Hollywood. It’s not one of the many questions the movie tries—and fails—-to answer, though. It doesn’t have much to say about the ethics of making a movie during a pandemic. Nor does it offer much insight into the pressure companies put on their employees to turn out content no matter the physical and emotional toll it takes on them. And it definitely misses the mark about how the industry treats women, how producers debase the process seeking the approval of young viewers, or the way egotistical actors conduct themselves in a professional setting.
The only interesting question The Bubble truly answers is whether or not a successful comedy director can combine a great premise with an amazing cast and still produce a humorless movie that is a disaster in almost every way. And the answer is an unquestioned “yes.”
For the first hour of The Bubble, I was mostly stunned by how unfunny the film is. It’s not mediocre. It doesn’t waver from decent to bad, good to great. It’s just totally flat throughout, with barely a guffaw to be found let alone a genuine moment of comedy. Watching the first hour was like going to a good restaurant with a great chef and staff. Then you sit in disbelief as they serve you a bottle of champagne opened a week ago alongside an overcooked, overwrought filet. If that happen you’d be more confused and disappointed than angry, which is how the film’s first half made me feel.
It’s not really the cast’s fault. Everyone is game for their role; it never feels like anyone is mailing in their performance. And their combined talent is obvious. The Bubble stars Karen Gillan, Fred Armisen, Maria Bakalova, David Duchovny, Keegan-Michael Key, Leslie Mann, Pedro Pascal, Peter Serafinowicz, Vir Das, Rob Delaney, and Iris Apatow. (Yes, her dad is the director. She’s still good, even if she should have switched roles with Bakalova.)
The problem almost all of them can’t overcome is that their character isn’t very interesting. They’re all archetypes of various pampered actors. One is trying to resurrect their career after an offensive role in a movie everyone hated. Another is a smug star with a drug problem. They could always talk to the new actor-turned-mental-health-guru. Or the veteran star who thinks the script is crap and only they can turn their garbage movie into real art. Which character is which? It doesn’t matter. None of them is funny or original.
It’s as though the whole movie is based on someone hearing about Tropic Thunder thirdhand, without knowing why that film works or even what a satire should do. The Bubble tries to hit so many targets that it hits none of them. There’s just nothing here. Or rather, it was total nothingness for the first hour. After 60 minutes of what felt like an endless collection of cliché sketches you’d be mortified to see at a free local sketch comedy show, the movie suddenly decided it was something else entirely and changed its tone. The fruitless attempts at a clever parody disappeared, and a film that had been merely boring and bland became genuinely embarrassing. It gets really, really stupid in a bad way, not the good way a movie like this can get stupid.
It also doesn’t help that this movie features some of the worst, most self-indulgent cameos you will ever see. One of them is so bad I actually got angry during the scene. And as much as I’d like to say, “You’ll know it when you see it,” you might not. Too many of the cameos qualify.
Even if the humor worked, though, this film would still have major issues. For one there are way too many characters. And almost very single person in the film (save for Peter Serafinowicz), even the smallest bit roles, is played for a laugh. It’s like Judd Apatow looked at iconic comedy team of Martin and Lewis and said, “How much funnier would it be if we added 40 more versions of Jerry Lewis?” The answer is “not funny.” Not funny at all.
There’s also the glaring problem that every single character and every single subplot is either underdeveloped or entirely abandoned. If someone told me they lost 40% of the script right before filming but decided, “It’s fine! Look at this cast! Look at our director! We’re good!” I’d believe them.
Maybe that faith would have worked if the cast had better parts or a more coherent script. Or if The Bubble had a consistent comedic tone or an actual point-of-view. There are some brief (very brief) flashes of what this film could have been. A couple of TikTok dances work (which itself is an indictment of a comedy). As does the big actor drug session teased in the trailer. And Fred Armisen seems to be the only one who knows what movie he should be in. But the only genuine laughs in the entire film come from the two smallest roles that get less than five minutes of screen time. The two actors in the mocap suits, the guys who stand in for the cliff beasts of the movie-within-a-movie, are hilarious during their brief brilliant moments.
They’re the only two who mine the film’s premise for actual comedy and real laughs. I wish the whole movie had been them commenting on the ongoing events.
Sometimes a film has everything it needs to be great. But for reasons that are hard to describe it doesn’t work. This is not one of those times. The Bubble‘s flaws are obvious and consistent. At its best it’s painfully unfunny and forgettable. At its worse it’s embarrassing. If, like me, you love almost every person involved in it, do them a favor and don’t watch it. That way you won’t have to ask yourself an interesting question: Can I forget that ever happened?
1 out of 5
The Bubble premieres on Netflix April 1, 2022.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.