Film review: The Bubble (2022), directed by Judd Apatow
tl;dr: A less funny version of Tropic Thunder set at an English country hotel during lockdown. Spoilers.
The popular Cliff Beasts franchise of monster/action films is about to start production on the sixth instalment in the series. Actress Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan) reluctantly agrees to return, having not participated in Cliff Beasts 5. Problem is, it’s in the middle of a pandemic so they all have to “bubble” – quarantine for two weeks (shown as a montage) and then spend all their time in and around a country house hotel somewhere in England, where the film is being shot.
Joining Carol are the rest of the returning cast – Dieter Bravo (Pedro Pascal), Howie Frangopolous (Guz Khan), Sean Knox (Keegan-Michael Key), sort of estranged married couple Lauren Van Chance (Leslie Mann) and Dustin Mulray (David Duchovny) – and newcomer/TikTok sensation Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow). They’re joined by director Darren Eigen (Fred Armisen), producer Gavin (Peter Serafinowicz) and his assistant Pippa (Danielle Vitalis), health care facilitator Bola (Samson Kayo) and crew liaison Gunther (Harry Trevaldwyn).
The film chronicles the calamitous shoot of Cliff Beasts 6, with a bunch of diva actors who may or may not wish to leave the confines of the bubble, which seems to get more and more restrictive the longer the shoot drags on.
Also starring Vir Das and Maria Bakalova as hotel staff, Kate McKinnon as the studio head, Galen Hopper as the stunt coordinator’s overlooked daughter, and Rob Delaney as Carol’s agent. With cameos from people like John Cena, Daisy Ridley, John Lithgow, Beck and James McAvoy – the latter two as themselves.
The parallels to Tropic Thunder are many. While the actors are different, the premise of “rookie director tries to shoot a film in adverse circumstances against spiralling costs while an eccentric studio head presses them on to finish” is the same, and they even finish in the same way, award ceremony and all. There’s even a surly teenager who was adopted for less than altruistic reasons, an actor who is not who they pretend to be, and there were times I wondered if the agent was going to insist on getting Carol a TiVo.
The problem isn’t just that Tropic Thunder already exists, because when we saw the trailer we both went “ooh, kinda like Tropic Thunder, this should be good”, but that Tropic Thunder did it so much better than The Bubble. The former is a scathing satire about Hollywood and the ridiculous, and frankly insulting, length some actors will go to in pursuit of that elusive Oscar, the latter is just a bunch of spoiled actors trying to score with hotel staff (Dieter) or visiting footballers (Carol), trying to get new followers to his totally-not-a-cult cult (Sean) or TikTok account (Krystal), or trying to patch up their marriage again (Lauren and Dustin).
In addition to that, The Bubble often feels like it drags and some parts could easily have been cut for pace. It’s a film that thinks it’s vastly funnier than it actually is – see also Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016), which also suffers from exactly the same problem as The Bubble: there are many times it feels like the actors are doing improv. Now, improv isn’t a problem in itself, because when it’s done well it’s so seamless that you don’t even know that something wasn’t scripted. The problem is when you can feel that something wasn’t in the script and only added for shits and giggles because it was hilarious when they did it, despite not actually being that funny if you weren’t there when it happened. When the script ends up feeling rudderless because they’ve gone off script too much, or when they milk a joke for too long so it ends up becoming not funny. Such as Gunther’s Benedict Cumberbatch drug-induced deepfake. It’s hilarious … for about two seconds, but they keep going on and on and on.
In fairness, parts of The Bubble are amusing. Some bits are hilariously dark. I really like the actors in it – c’mon, I’ve been an X-Phile since the mid-1990s, they had me at David Duchovny! – and it had a lot of promise, it’s just that neither I, nor Mr T, were that sold on the execution. It should have been funnier than it was, and perhaps could have done with a bit more left on the proverbial cutting room floor.
2.75 out of 5 infections.