Judd Apatow’s The Bubble is a movie about making a movie in which the movie they were making turned into a movie about making that movie. The all-star cast of Cliff Beasts 6: Battle for Everest: Memories of a Requiem must overcome their differences when it seems like the hellish shoot is never going to end and a maniacal security staff takes over the hotel they are staying in. All this, and it’s set slap bang in the middle of the COVID pandemic.
The very fact that The Bubble exists begs the question: can you make a comedy about the COVID pandemic? Fundamentally The Bubble is about the chaos that ensues when a group of self-interested people are trapped together for too long. It doesn’t need to be about COVID necessarily (I think the same premise could have been achieved in a different way). But it is about COVID—it is a movie about making a movie during a global tragedy, and it’s about this specific tragedy that we are in now. This means that it can ask a second question: do we really need a comedy about the COVID pandemic right now? The problem with The Bubble is, it can’t make up its mind about the answer.
A couple of times it is said that they are making Cliff Beasts to distract people from their troubles. Perhaps this is what The Bubble wants to do. But can you distract people from the pandemic while also confronting it so explicitly? Moreover, with seemingly every single commercial and panel show trying to force a laugh out of you with jokes about hand washing, seeing the brighter side is starting to become draining as well.
Luckily, I mostly found The Bubble very funny (although I wonder if there might be a bit of a clash between American and British humour). Harry Trevaldwyn is particularly brilliant as the health officer, Gunther. There are multiple sex scenes (one is actually a bizarre and hilarious hallucination) that seem to be shooting for funny over sexy and succeed to varying degrees; the growing tension that leads up to the sex is generally much funnier. With all those raging hormones, it’s no wonder that their “gelatinous dick and balls” prove to be the cliff beasts’ downfall. The most tiring element is, predictably, the social media gags. You may find yourself thinking “wow, Pedro Pascal has moves”, but if you find Tik Tok dances annoying in real life then you’ll find them annoying in the movie.
“Are you worried that people won’t want to watch a movie about dinosaurs given the serious nature of the global pandemic?”
—Scott the EPK Guy
Dustin (David Duchovny) comes into conflict with the director (Fred Armisen) over rewrites to the script. Dustin wants to enhance the environmentalist message, but the director argues that no one cares and “people go to see the movies to see dinosaurs blow up and die”. There is a difference between the kind of movie that just wants to entertain you, and the kind that also wants to make you think. A COVID comedy can’t really avoid being the latter, but it feels like The Bubble is resisting being about anything. In a way, it’s about the acting profession, although I’m never sure whether I’m supposed to feel sorry for the actors or hate them. Maybe the fact that I can do both is the point. The Bubble expresses humility through self-deprecation and pessimism about the movie industry, but while it skewers itself, it’s also trying to defend its right to exist. So it’s not that the movie has no substance, more like the substance is very confused.
The characters all begin as very caricature-ish, which suits the genre just fine. Plus, The Bubble can get away with the cliche of the self-absorbed follower-obsessed teenager because all the other characters are also self-absorbed (and I must say that Krystal’s misuse of the word “gaslighting” is a spot-on take-down of my generation). However, they remain very superficial for the whole movie, which is a shame given the level of talent in the cast. Two of the characters are written out in surprisingly gory ways—the fact that this happens might be an indication that there were too many characters to begin with. The group scenes that focus on the central cast and their interactions with each other are generally the best. They’re all talented comedic actors who could have been utilised better. More dialogue between them, and fewer celebrity cameos, would have justified the two hour runtime.
In conclusion, The Bubble might be a little too long and a little too self-deprecating, but I was genuinely entertained. Clearly it is possible to make a comedy set during the pandemic, and for it to be funny without being insensitive. Is now the right time for a comedy movie? Can movies make a difference, or is it enough just to entertain people? The most interesting aspect of The Bubble is how it expresses anxiety about these questions. Perhaps I was wrong for suggesting that it should have known the answer. But overall, there is a lot going on in this movie, and the best bits can tend to get obscured. It delivered on its promise to make me laugh, but not on much else.