Is it time for yet more COVID-themed entertainment? In the two years since the pandemic’s inception, multiple films and ongoing series have addressed its effect on daily life. Bo Burnham’s Inside and Steven Soderbergh’s Kimi have proven that pandemic entertainment can be eye-opening and transformative, and that only makes new arrivals like The Bubble only more disappointing.
I won’t lie and say I wasn’t excited for this movie. Judd Apatow writing and directing a film with a Netflix budget, headlined by an all-star cast, with a decently funny trailer? Count me in!
Unfortunately, to say it’s disappointing would be an understatement. Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy) takes center stage as actress Carol Cobb, who abandoned the massively popular (and very fictional) Cliff Beasts film franchise to pursue an independent career. Now, years later and after a problematic role, she seeks to recover her reputation by returning for Cliff Beasts 6: Battle for Everest: Memories of a Requiem, which just so happens to be one of the few film productions active during the first year of the pandemic. She desperately wants to avoid any drama with the other cast members, but with a 126-minute runtime, we know that won’t be the case.
The other cast of Cliff Beasts 6 are a who’s-who of real-life A-listers. Among them are Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian), Leslie Mann (This is 40), David Duchovny (The X-Files) and Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele), and while it’s fun to see everyone on screen together, the novelty wears off very quickly. The cast is the best thing about this movie, but even they’re squandered and wasted, and unable to salvage an already sunken vessel.
I will admit that The Bubble has echoes of some ideas that, in the right story, could be deployed brilliantly. A fictional, worn-out film franchise is a really good starter, but there’s nothing much beyond the initial jokes about movie series that have gone on for far too long. To make things worse, few of the jokes land. The commentary about class and the rich elite doesn’t feel sincere in the slightest, seeing as this film was made by the very same people it’s trying to criticize.
Just like the film we’re watching, the in-universe movie shoot gets extended much longer than necessary, and safety precautions begin to ramp up. The Bubble attempts to confront the realities of quarantine and isolation through an extremely exaggerated lens, but it’s done in such an uncomfortable and insensitive way that any message the film is trying to convey seems to be completely abandoned in favor of bland humor that doesn’t work.
Undoubtedly, the best thing about The Bubble is the supporting cast. Samson Kayo (Our Flag Means Death) is hilarious, as is Harry Trevaldwyn (The King) — they play Cliff Beasts’ cast coordinator and safety officer, respectively, whose primary roles are to make things increasingly more difficult and awkward for the actors. Maria Bakalova makes one of her first appearances since her star turn in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. She is criminally underused here, relegated to lusting after Pedro Pascal’s character for 95% of the time she’s on-screen. It’s insulting for an actress of her caliber, and I sorely hope that her future film appearances will give her the respect she deserves.
Hollywood loves movies about movies, so by all rights, The Bubble should be a success. Not only does it fail miserably, it discredits all those involved, The film assumes a lot of things about the interest and investment of its audience without earning any of the necessary buy-in. It tackles TikTok culture, corner-cutting, family values and drug addiction (sometimes all in the same scene!), but in a way that lacks any sort of meaning or sensitivity. Right before its credits roll, The Bubble admits that it itself is a distraction “in these difficult times,” and if you look at it like that, it did distract me for two hours — but that distraction was anything but pleasant.
In another universe, The Bubble is a carefully constructed commentary on the state of the film industry and the effect of the pandemic on mass media entertainment. In our universe, it’s a comedy full of jokes without punchlines. Like it or not, though, this film is a piece of pandemic history, and as unfunny as it may be, that is how it will remain.
The Bubble is available on Netflix now.