The Bubble is a (sometimes funny) comedy film that tries to supply social commentary on a lot of things all at once. Unfortunately, a few spoonfuls of comedy does not help the heaps of clunky commentary go down smoothly. Like many modern attempts at social commentary from well-meaning, mostly white or white gaze aligned, comedian writers, the film's humor sags under the weight of false neutralism.
The film follows an assemble of characters as they are filming the sixth installment of a dinosaur movie franchise called “Cliff Beasts.” During the 100-million-dollar production of the movie, hijinks ensue as Covid-19 measures and character egos clash. Judd Apatow seemed to be aiming for commentary on the power and hypocrisy in Hollywood. The results are shapeless and better recalled for discussion after the fact.
This is the rare good “bad” movie that is more efficient as a conversation starter than an entertaining watch. Judd Apatow and Pam Brady write and direct a professional, polished cinematic product. The actors are all professionals and work the threadbare script for what it is worth. David Duchovny even manages to make you forget about Agent Fox Mulder from the X-Files as he nails the depiction of the pompous actor rewriting the script in midshoot. From a technical lens, this movie is polished. The humor itself will be funny to a sizeable audience, so even on a commercial level, it will do well most likely. But, from a critical lens. . .
For example, public outrage over a white actor (Carol) playing a character that is meant to be half Palestinian and half Israeli is glossed over. Apatow seems to want to show the clueless way these things happen. He has Carol confront her manager for encouraging her (over her own doubts) to play the character. The moment, however, becomes little more than an inciting incident. Carol literally never has an emotional arc, epiphany, or insight into the situation. Instead, Carol seems to just feel like the whole thing is unfair to her. Essentially, her career is on the rocks because people were upset about this portrayal, even though the movie was good. Carol is ridiculed by the other actors more for the film having a 4% on Rotten Tomatoes and bailing on "Cliff Beasts 5", than the sociopolitical implications of her actions. Zaki, a football player staying in the hotel with the cast, quite literally asks her if she is Palestinian or Israeli. After she replies no, he proceeds with a sexual come-on. Throughout the film, Carol's issue of whitewashing a character is given no real cinematic conversation.
This is symbolic of the offhanded way the film treats serious topics. Brady and Apatow clearly were trying to critique the vapid Hollywood elite, lifestyle, power structure, and hypocrisy. It is just too bad that they took the focus away from that with so many subplots, sex scenes, and gross-out gags. One character quite literally holds a staff member's hand while he relieves himself on the toilet, while a female character is made to look like she urinated on herself out of fear for an extended shot. The interesting scenes where we see the CGI magic for the "Cliff Beasts" and the juxtaposition of the green screen and actors is lost in this concoction. There is so much potential movie industry commentary in the way the actors openly admit this is a cheap slogfest money grab and how the work conditions are asinine and problematic. But these moments become background and only brilliant on recall. I never thought about them while watching. I suppose that means the movie at least works on the subconscious level.
The film unfolds like someone decided that we had to be "fair" to both sides of the sociopolitical storm around the pandemic. Unintentionally or not, we get a movie that paints social distancing, masking, and quarantines as useless measures that don't keep anyone safe. There is a stale joke about the actors getting influenza, and it being the "good virus." We get two montages showing the actors upset at 2-week quarantines. As they whine and protest angrily, the viewer can not help but notice the luxurious England mansion they are staying in, where they quarantine in lavish rooms and have their every need met by staff. It feels like Apatow is going for commentary on how these actors have been placed in danger of Covid-19 to film a vapid movie sequel, but the visual results are mixed.
Part of the issue is the large assemble reads more like character tropes than fleshed-out characters. There is not much development or screen time for the social commentary to flourish.
After watching the movie, I realized I did not remember any character’s name, only the tropes they represented. The spacey Gen-Z stereotype and Social Media Influencer acted as you are imagining. The Social Media Influencer was unaware of who any of the established actors were and seemed "confused" when being interviewed. Specifically, she was unsure if she was being filmed for the dinosaur movie while in a pink tulle dress at a cocktail party.
We get some commentary on ageism against actors, but it’s played for laughs. For example, the Gen-Z character calls our Main Character (Carol) old by way of a Nirvana reference. Gen-Z then replaces her despite having no acting experience and being terrible. The Gen-Z Social Media Influencer teaches a raptor how to do a stiff Tik Tok dance. It is as vapid as it sounds. The male characters only worry about staying relevant in the movie industry, while Carol is constantly reminded that as a Gen Y Millenial female, she is ancient. Again, Apatow is trying for commentary, but it comes off as light observation at best.
The abuse of the camera operator is played for laughs with no real consequences. The abuse and threats toward the Production Manager from the studio representative are played for larger laughs. White couples casually adopting children of color (and casually discussing if they should return him) is played for larger laughs still. Even in a comedy full of characters trying to be funny, the two big guys (no big women of course) are still played as big, jolly comic relief. And in 2022, the film has an actor’s hand blown off in a security shooting, played for laughs.
That is ultimately the problem with The Bubble, it plays everything for laughs to get around the audience’s defenses. But it comes off like a privileged white male thinking that ridiculing everyone else equally is the road to equality.
And it’s not. And it's definitely not funny to pretend that it is.
Apatow is trying to use a spoonful of comedy to make the social commentary go down. However, The Bubble is leaving a bitter taste in most reviewers' mouths.
Otherwise, if you like fart jokes, gratuitous sex scenes, and occasional physical humor, this movie has got you covered.