The coronavirus pandemic changed a lot about the movie business, but it also gave Hollywood plenty of story ideas. From COVID-inspired thriller Songbird to heist adventure Locked Down, the threat of COVID-19 left an impression on cinema that’s gone beyond studios’ scheduling woes.
That’s why it seems fitting that The Bubble, the latest project from one of the most popular pandemic entertainment distractions, Netflix, is a comedy about, well … making a movie during the pandemic.
Directed and co-written by Judd Apatow, The Bubble follows a group of actors brought together on a closed set in England to film the sixth installment of Cliff Beasts, a film franchise about dinosaur-hunting adventurers. Confined to the hotel and the set by the studio, the cast members soon find themselves going stir-crazy as they deal with egos, isolation, and production troubles within the confines of their quarantine bubble.
Playing veterans of the movie-within-a-movie Cliff Beasts franchise are Karen Gillan, David Duchovny, Leslie Mann, Keegan-Michael Key, and Guz Khan, while Iris Apatow and The Mandalorian star Pedro Pascal portray new actors joining the franchise for its next chapter. Portlandia‘s Fred Armisen is the director of the fictional franchise film, helming the double-colon production Cliff Beasts 6: The Battle for Everest: Memories of the Requiem.
The ensemble cast is filled out by more familiar faces, with Peter Serafinowicz as the film’s on-set studio representative, and Maria Bakalova, Samson Kayo, Harry Trevaldwyn, and Vir Das playing the hotel’s staff and actors’ handlers.
It’s a big cast, but The Bubble does a nice job of juggling all of the characters as they bounce off each other — often literally — within the confines of their heavily restricted pandemic environment.
The Bubble works well as a parody of pandemic life, exaggerated for comedic effect through the microcosm of the actors’ experiences on Cliff Beasts 6, but it’s just as effective when it targets Hollywood and its sequel obsession, out-of-touch celebrity culture, and a myriad of other elements. Anyone who’s spent time on film sets will find plenty of familiar humor in the dynamic between the personalities (some exaggerated, some not so much) behind the camera (like the profit-hungry producers) and in front of it (like the film’s entitled stars).
To its credit, The Bubble maintains a good balance between industry in-jokes and universal laughs, offering ample quantities of both as production on Cliff Beasts 6 spirals out of control due to problems both pandemic-related and otherwise. Gillan is particularly fun to watch as the actress whose faltering career outside the franchise brings her back to Cliff Beasts, only to regret the decision as she finds herself caught up in on-set drama that threatens her marriage, career, and the film itself.
A fine line
Outside of the actors portraying the faux film’s cast, who all deliver fun, funny performances that feel like a mix of caricature and all-too-real inspiration from Hollywood circles, the trio of Serafinowicz, Kayo, and Trevaldwyn offer plenty of additional laughs as the studio employees struggling to keep the film and its actors on track. The line between what’s exaggerated for humor and the typical level of weirdness on a film set — particularly a closed, isolated set like this — never feels all that certain in The Bubble, but that just adds to the film’s fun meta vibe.
Still, in trying to squeeze as much joke material as possible from the Hollywood machine, The Bubble also ends up deserving of at least one criticism levied at too many modern movies: It’s just too long.
Clocking in at just over two hours running time, The Bubble seems to overstay its welcome at times, lingering a bit too much on one plot point or another and opting against what could have seemingly been a more compact, efficient, and equally hilarious story. The laughs become a little less frequent as the film rolls past the 90-minute mark, and the potency of the parody wanes over time.
As far as pandemic-inspired films go, though, The Bubble is one of the more unique ones, and it wrings some much-needed humor out of two years’ worth of anxiety in and around the movie world. Only time will tell if its jokes land with a post-pandemic audience, but in this moment, it’s a comedy that hits close to home in all the right ways.
Directed by Judd Apatow, The Bubble premieres April 1 on Netflix.
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