Review: Netflix’s The Bubble is the surprisingly funny COVID comedy only Judd Apatow knew we needed

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Leslie Mann and David Duchovny in The Bubble, streaming on Netflix starting April 1.handout

The Bubble

  • Directed by Judd Apatow
  • Written by Judd Apatow and Pam Brady
  • Starring Karen Gillan, David Duchovny and Keegan-Michael Key
  • Classification R; 126 minutes
  • Streaming on Netflix starting April 1

Critic’s pick

I’m on the record as stating that the world doesn’t need another COVID-19 movie. We’re only done with the pandemic when we say that we’re done, goes one line of thinking – and while you might disagree, it’s advice that filmmakers should at least heed. I simply don’t want to see masks, swabs or the effects of social distancing on-screen. With the exception of the COVID-19-movie-but-not-really Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (and perhaps Steven Soderbergh’s quasi-coronavirus thriller Kimi), I don’t think storytellers are ready to sincerely reckon with the pandemic. Nor should audiences have to confront such quick-trick efforts. And yet, and yet … I had decent fun with Judd Apatow’s The Bubble.

Maybe I’ll regret writing this after a rewatch – or when we’re back in lockdown after the Pi Epsilon 2.0 variant – but there is semi-purpose and not insignificant pleasure to be had in Apatow’s experiment. The Netflix production isn’t the comedy kingmaker’s best film by a wide margin (though it is his shortest, which still isn’t saying much), but it works in spite of itself.

Keegan-Michael Key, Karen Gillan, Leslie Mann, David Duchovny, Guz Khan, Iris Apatow and Pedro Pascal in The Bubble, a movie about the making of a movie during a pandemic.handout

Conceptualized through a meta hall of mirrors – this is a movie released during a pandemic about the making of a movie during a pandemic, that itself was made during a pandemic, inspired by other movies like Jurassic World: Dominion and Mission: Impossible 7 that were made during a pandemic – The Bubble takes a few beats, and several throat-clearing hacks, to get going.

In COVID’s early days, movie star Carol (Karen Gillan) is asked to return to headline the super-dumb monster movie Cliff Beasts franchise that made her career. The catch: Carol, her co-stars (including David Duchovny’s sex addict, Keegan-Michael Key’s faux-spiritual narcissist, and a desperately lonely character actor played by Pedro Pascal) and the entire crew must quarantine in a COVID-19-free bubble just outside of London. A certain level of R-rated wackiness ensues, especially once it becomes clear that the Cliff Beasts 6 director (Fred Armisen) has no control over his cast, and the studio executive (Peter Serafinowicz) responsible for keeping everything on budget, and only vaguely “safe,” is one PCR test away from losing his mind.

In its hook and production mechanics, The Bubble is Apatow’s most high-concept film, but also his most restrained, or polite. It feels absent the improv-dependent structure the filmmaker employs for his movies like Knocked Up and This Is 40 – perhaps because there simply wasn’t time or patience from a COVID-19 protocol standpoint – and the scenes suffer for it. The characters are also mostly unsympathetic brats, whereas Apatow specializes in selling relatable, sympathetic underdogs.

But – this is a review filled with goals – the movie is still funny, mischievous and packed with a murderer’s row of comic actors who appear to be genuinely enjoying their assignment (including Apatow’s own daughter Iris, who plays a TikTok personality, and wife Leslie Mann, cast as a Reese Witherspoon-like star). At the risk of deploying a more obvious joke than The Bubble resorts to, the film’s energy and charms are rather infectious.

Your mileage may vary on, say, how many nose-swab montages you can stomach. But there are enough sharp gags (“You have lines, but they’re only non-verbal”) and surprise guest stars (one bit involving musician [redacted] made my day) to make The Bubble the best Hollywood thing to come out of the pandemic since Tom Cruise’s on-set safety meltdown. Mission: Sorta Possible, Judd Apatow.

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