Judd Apatow’s Netflix comedy The Bubble barely musters a handful of decent gags


Judd Apatow’s Netflix comedy sees a group of actors holed up, making a blockbuster in quarantine. Sadly, The Bubble pretty much announces that, as far as comedy goes, Apatow just cremated his career, says Adam Fresco.

The Bubble

Streaming Now
  • Netflix

The pitch is simple. A bunch of celebrities are shooting the sixth instalment in what we are told is cinema’s “twenty-third biggest action franchise, ‘Cliff Beasts’”. But a certain global pandemic is raging, so the entire cast and crew are isolated for three months to shoot the movie against green screen, in a luxury countryside hotel, “somewhere in England”. Ensconced in their bubble, can the fragile talent and giant egos survive each other, let alone the virus keeping them quarantined? And more importantly, do we care? Because unless you are someone of the age and comedic taste that finds the likes of The Emoji Movie fun, you most assuredly won’t give a damn.

The film opens by stating: “This is the story of the making of ‘Cliff Beasts 6’ and the brave people who fought heroically to bring distractions to humanity”. But, as a distraction? The Bubble barely delivers. As a comedy? It can barely blow a puff of the potential promised by its own trailer. At just over two hours, The Bubble feels like a brief, comedic Saturday Night Live sketch stretched until it bursts. If, as Shakespeare wrote, “brevity is the soul of wit”, then this is a painful reminder that two-minute comedy sketches are short for a reason.

Writer/director Judd Apatow was once a Hollywood comedy powerhouse. He wrote, produced and directed The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Funny People and produced The Cable Guy, Superbad, Pineapple Express, Bridesmaids, The Big Sick, and both Anchorman movies. So, if this review sounds like an obituary maybe that’s because The Bubble pretty much announces that, as far as comedy goes, Apatow just cremated his career and buried the laughs so deep even James Cameron won’t find them in his Deepsea Challenger sub.

The cast of characters include David Duchovny as Dustin, a world-weary action star who is so miserable as to make Harrison Ford look positively chirpy. Pedro Pascal has fun playing unhinged method actor Dieter; Keegan-Michael Key energetically pushes Scientology-like systems as Sean; Peter Serafinowicz is a ruthless British film producer, warning the hotel staff to treat the actors “like animals”; and Fred Armisen plays Darren, a director with a vision to make a movie to help “the world forget all their problems”.

Sadly, this film just adds to the mounting issues we all face, offering a colossal waste of time and talent. Not that the actors don’t at least try hard to amuse. Take for example, Karen Gillan as Carol, an insecure actor coming off a critically panned movie in which her character, half-Israeli and half-Palestinian, unites the Middle East in a fight against aliens. A nice idea, but it’s indicative of the film’s quality that these short, five-second glimpses of imaginary awful films are those that make the most comedic impact. And sadly, there are precious few of them.

Still, Kate McKinnon shines bright, albeit briefly, in her literally phoned in role as the US Studio chief, pushing to get the movie made, and there are blink and you’ll miss ‘em appearances from the likes of John Lithgow and James McAvoy. Heck, even musician Beck drops in for a cameo. Best of the lot is John Cena, who appears as a stunt coordinator, on a Zoom call, trying, and failing, to explain a complex stunt, whilst a crew member holds him aloft on an iPad, as he glitches and freezes, before the actors are hurled into a disastrous attempt at an action scene, that also doubles as painfully poor slapstick comedy.

When the comedy works it is all too brief and far between. From lifting the Jurassic Park font for titles, through to fun quotes during the end credits (such as Darren the director saying his next film is one about racial diversity based on Skittles), to guys in dinosaur costumes idly chatting as they hang from cables against green screen. Bored actors attached to wires, against green screen, is fun at first, but quickly tires, as do the thinly-sketched characters and slapdash script.

None of this is helped by a feeling that we have been here before, and were better served. Ben Stiller’s 2008 comedy Tropic Thunder, took down actors egos, satirised action movies, and threw a group of disparate actors played by top-notch Hollywood talent together. The difference was, Stiller’s cast had a pretty good script on top of the satirical premise, and the film was consistently funny, even outrageously so in Robert Downey Junior’s portrayal of Oscar-hungry method acting gone mad.

So, there’s nothing wrong with satire. Don’t Look Up did a bang up job, and whilst it wasn’t a rollicking comedy, it certainly had something to say about our current plight, in an entertaining and thought-provoking way. But the trouble with The Bubble is that it barely musters a handful of decent gags and, after a promising initial set-up, starts to really, really, (really) drag.

The global pandemic has a lot to answer for and a poorly executed cinematic comedy may be way down on the list, but it’s on there. And releasing it on April Fool’s Day only added to the sense that I’d been had. There’s another two hours of my life I won’t get back. I only hope in reading this review I might save you from the same fate. So, do yourself a favour—go take a bubble bath instead.

The Bubble

Streaming Now
  • Netflix