Judd Apatow assembles a star-studded cast for this surprisingly fun Covid-themed comedy.
It has been a long ol’ pandemic – one that grew from weeks, to months, to years and now can be demarcated by two Judd Apatow films. The first – underseen and charming Pete Davidson vehicle The King of Staten Island – was a warm and lightly bro-y comedy that proved a welcome distraction from lockdown terror. The second, made with Netflix, is a bigger departure from Apatow’s signature tone, adopting broader absurdity and wackier antics.
The Bubble is a Covid comedy in every sense of the word, inspired by the production of the Jurassic World Dominion where the cast and crew formed a production-wide “bubble” and an entire hotel in England was commandeered for the shoot. In The Bubble a group of self-involved movie stars led by Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan) and young TikTok star Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow) are trapped making Cliff Beasts 6 under the stewardship of producer Gavin (Peter Serafanowitz) and director Darren (Fred Armisen) and supported by delightful Wellness specialist Bola (Samson Kayo) and Covid officer Gunther (Harry Trevaldwyn) who desperately wants to make friends.
Like most Judd Apatow films and new variant waves, The Bubble lasts too long. But similarly they fall into a strangely hypnotic rhythm. Trevaldwyn and Armisen suit the tone best, with tiny flourishes of physical comedy, making “sweet eyes” in lieu of hugs or floundering while giving a disquieting mid-swim hug. Gillan also nails the lead role, balancing a monstrous actress ego with the madness of being trapped in a never-ending shoot punctuated by two week in-room confinements where there is nothing to do but exercise, masturbate or, in Dieter Bravo’s (Pedro Pascal) case, get creative with a combination of the two.
The characters quickly descend into madness, evoking Eleanor Coppola’s Apocalypse Now documentary Heart of Darkness and building to a fantastically silly final act. Pedro Pascal as a Johnny Depp-esque drugged-up movie star infatuated with Annika (Maria Bakalova) the hotel receptionist is great fun, as are the musical numbers and the cult recruiting attempts of egomaniac action star Sean Knox (Keegan Michael Key). Though at times it feels like the edit is arbitrary, madness sets in early and has nowhere to build to but it does mean that less amusing turns from David Duchovny and Leslie Mann are bookended with more successful jokes.
An overabundance of celebrity cameos and some incoherence aside, The Bubble succeeds because it is just so damn fun. Even with a departure from Apatow’s more muted direction there is an abundance of laughs. Tiny roles of studio execs and agents on zoom are played by comedy veterans like John Lithgow, Rob Delaney and Kate McKinnon that milk their brief moment for absurd giggles. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Christopher Guest’s hilarious mockumentary ensembles, a director waving a bazooka at a helicopter that can only go up and down should go down as one of the funniest things to come out of the pandemic.