Sigh. Like many film-makers before him, Judd Apatow promised much before a slow descent into self-indulgence; his scope has narrowed to the point where his latest effort is really just film-makers ruminating on the idiocies of the film-making process. A few nods towards Covid-19 virus restrictions don’t change the fact that in-jokes like The Bubble, which apparently takes inspiration from the troubled shoot of Jurassic World-Dominion, are extremely alienating for anyone who doesn’t share the same concerns. This is navel-gazing, and despite the presence of some real comedic talents, enthusiasm fades as The Bubble bursts like a pimple on streaming service Netflix.
On the plus side, there’s Kate McKinnon, Peter Serafinowicz, Fred Armisen and plenty of funny people here; unfortunately Armisen’s dinosaur impression is about the only thing that lands. Karen Gillan’s aging actress Carol Cobb returns to the Cliff Beast franchise for a lengthy shoot in England that’s set to deliver a sixth instalment. The cast includes a seasoned veteran (David Duchovny) and his shrew-ish wife (Apatow’s own wife Leslie Mann) a sex-crazed lothario (Pedro Pascal), a seemingly humble desk clerk (Borat’s Maria Bakalova) and other industry types; throw in cameos from Beck, Daisy Ridley, John Lithgow, Benedict Cumberbatch and James McAvoy and you’ve got a great comedy movie, right?
Nope. The Bubble makes a strange point of juxtaposing scenes from the finished film with the green-screen rehearsals, but never focuses enough on either; the satire is limp, and so are the tired observations of the self-centred drug-fuelled, petulant actors. The Bubble features a few current digs at TikTok dance routines and a few other easy targets, but despite frantic mugging from the cast, you’re left with the usual sub-Carry On jokes about balls and not much else. There’s also a few busts of horror, notably when an actress gets her hand shot off, but we’re somehow meant to laugh at such misfortune.
When Netflix starting taking on cinema by skipping the need for proper release periods, it was a game-changer that disrupted the industry. Now that the cinema industry has been brought to its knees by the virus, that tactic seems somewhat redundant; we know there’s a captive audience who’ll watch rubbish at home to save them the expense and risk of leaving the house. The Bubble’s attack on film-makers for trying to get their films made feels a bit rich coming from a streaming service that doesn’t seem to bother with quality control at all. Like Spotify, Netflix have used well-loved IP as the honey in the trap to attract subscribers, then sold them something else instead; the problem comes when their own-brand honey (cinema, music) doesn’t resonate with subscribers anymore. And given the sacrifices that ordinary people have made over the last two years, The Bubble’s attempt to make comedy from virus-related tragedy falls lamentably flat.