The Bubble: The Be-All, End-All Pandemic Comedy

(L to R) Keegan-Michael Key as Sean Knox, Karen Gillan as Carol Cobb, Leslie Mann as Lauren Van Chance, David Duchovny as Dustin Mulray, Guz Khan as Howie Frangopolous, Iris Apatow as Krystal Kris, Pedro Pascal as Dieter Bravo in The Bubble. Photo credit: Laura Radford/Netflix © 2021

Judd Apatow’s new pandemic comedy, The Bubble, is the pandemic comedy that we’ve been waiting for and it is perfection.

The Bubble follows the making of Cliff Beasts 6: Battle for Everest: Memories of a Requim. It’s the 6th film in one of the largest dinosaur franchises in cinematic history. Think a C-franchise version of Jurassic Park. Everyone is staying at the same hotel where there is no interaction with anyone else while quarantining. What could possibly go wrong? During a global pandemic, well, it turns out everything. This doesn’t even begin to take a cast mutiny into account.

Little by little, you can see how filming during a pandemic is taking their toll on them. As many of us know by now, living in isolation is not easy. Having to live in a hotel room alone can also come with losing one’s own mind and The Bubble must be able to depict this while also keeping the funny. Much like the real world, the cast of Cliff Beasts 6 must learn to appreciate one another rather than not get along with their castmates.

Mark Tildesley deserves an Oscar nomination for the production design. You have the real world bubble at the hotel and then you have to create the design of Cliff Beasts. This is where ILM works its magic by creating dinosaurs that look cinematic, even for a C-level film, even if the science is absolutely wrong. If we can’t buy into the movie’s design, it won’t work. This is also where the genius of Judd Apatow comes into play because he and Pam Brady are writing The Bubble to be a good movie. Apatow productions come with high standards. They have their work cut out because Cliff Beasts 6 is supposed to be a horrible movie. And yes, Apatow finds a way to insert dinosaur genitals because, again, Cliff Beasts is a popular but terrible franchise. I bet you won’t be seeing that on your dinosaur tour!

In the press notes, Apatow describes the film as Christopher Guest meets Tropic Thunder. When it comes to films about making movies, Tropic Thunder is one of the best. The Bubble gives the Ben Stiller film a run for its money although Sullivan’s Travels remains the golden standard of Hollywood satires. Because Apatow making a film about making an action movie, he has an opportunity to cast anyone. It doesn’t matter if they have never been in one of his films before. All that matters is that we must also be able to buy into the idea of them being in an action franchise. Karen Gillan, who stars as Carol Cobb, is a veteran in this department and she shines in the film, as both Carol and her Cliff Beasts character.

Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan) is the one actress in the film who thinks she’s not a pain in the tuchas like her castmates. She didn’t do the 5th Cliff Beasts movie and everyone hates her for bailing on them. Instead, she shot Jerusalem Rising, a film about Israelis and Palestinians coming together to defeat aliens attacking the Earth. Her character is half-Israeli and half-Palestinian and not being either, she offended Jews and Palestinians by doing the film, which was horribly panned at 4% on Rotten Tomatoes. I like how Apatow uses this to comment on the whole casting of non-Jewish actors as Jews in movies. Also, Carol doesn’t read any of the reviews written by film critics.

Sean (Keegan-Michael Key) is a very spiritual character. He’s published a book and one can argue that he’s also started a religion. He denies that it’s a religion and especially denies that it’s a cult. I love what the improv veteran does with the role, including his own stunts.

Dieter (Pedro Pascal) is an Oscar-winning actor and he’s doing the role solely for the cash grab. Pascal’s performance here is very different from what he has done in Narcos, The Mandalorian or Wonder Woman 1984. It shows you the type of range that Pascal has once you put him in an ensemble comedy of this nature. Much like Carol has her own meltdown, we’re watching Dieter spiral quickly by wanting someone to either sleep with or do drugs. I would totally watch a spinoff about his character! Hell, I would like to see Pedro Pascal cast in more comedies because he crushes it!

Lauren (Leslie Mann) and Dustin (David Duchovny) met each other while working on these films. They’ve been through a lot together and adopted a kid. They’re the couple that is either fighting or making out with each other. I imagine they are a stand-in for actors in a similar relationship. As for Dustin, he sees himself as the franchise’s guardian, always wanting to improve the script and give the film an environmental relationship. It’s in opposition to Dieter’s character, who wants nothing more than to kill them all and build a hotel on Mt. Everest.

The film is a true family affair for Apatow. Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow) is the TikTok star of the movie although she has no history with acting. Because Krystal is a TikTok star, the cast performs some elaborate dances including one that’s featured in Cliff Beasts 6. The dances are some of the best parts of the film, too! The actress also gets a fight scene of her own when not performing on camera, too.

Howie (Guz Khan) may be the the comic relief of the franchise but the actor struggles with living at a hotel during a pandemic. It forces them to rewrite the film but one almost wishes that the actor would have been in the entire movie rather than run off from the set.

Directing Cliff Beasts 6 is Darren, who won Sundance for shooting Tiles of Love on his iPhone during breaks while working at Home Depot. I can’t tell if this is an homage to Sean Baker, Colin Trevorrow, or Kevin Smith. In any event, the film is the first blockbuster for the filmmaker and he is in way over his head. As quickly as he loses control of the set, it’s a surprise that he isn’t fired. Much like everyone else in the film, his character has quite the arc. The only person having it worse than Darren is Gavin (Peter Serafinowicz). Nobody truly wants Cliff Beasts 6 except for the studio because they’re worried about the lack of a profit from their films. He’s the one who has to make sure that production doesn’t fall apart.

Maria Bakalova broke out in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and while her character in this film isn’t as big, she’s still funny. Meanwhile, it’s actor Harry Trevaldwyn stealing the show as the Covid officer, Gunther. It’s a very minor role but it is always great seeing a Chicago improv veteran like Chris Witaske on screen.

If you’re like me and watch the bonus features on movies, keep an eye on Scott (Nick Kocher) the EPK guy. I have never seen someone on the receiving end of so much disrespect. The studio hires Scott to shoot the making-of-footage and everyone is being a jerk about it. Not even Krystal is willing to talk on camera with him!

Filmmakers can stop making pandemic comedies because there is no way anyone can top The Bubble. I mean, really? How can it ever be topped? Apatow goes inside baseball in making this meta comedy about shooting a terrible action film during a pandemic. I’m very picky when it comes to pandemic movies because the past two years have been a lot. How many Zoom movies is someone able to watch? How many movies about two people in an abusive relationship and stuck in quarantine can we watch? Apatow does the impossible here and makes a pandemic comedy that I don’t mind watching again. Sure, it’s over two hours long but I know how Apatow films work by now.

The production of Jurassic World Dominion is a big influence on the film. Or at the very least, it is what sparked Apatow’s initial idea for a script. One can only home that things did not breakdown this badly on the upcoming Colin Trevorrow movie.

If you take away The King of Staten Island opening during a pandemic and going straight to VOD, this is Judd Apatow’s first film for Netflix. The most disappointing part of an Apatow film going straight to Netflix: no Blu-ray stacked with all the bonus content. Much like Adam McKay and Paul Feig, Apatow movies are ones in which I look forward to the home release. Our best bet at getting a look at all the fun bonus content is if this film joins the Criterion Collection.

Judd Apatow is one of the greatest comedy filmmakers of his generation. Next to maybe Adam McKay, there’s only one filmmaker that I would trust with making a pandemic comedy set in the movie industry and that’s Judd Apatow. He’s a genius and pulls it off with thanks to a brilliant cast.

Pandemic films have a way of hitting too close to home. We’re over two years into this thing with another variant infecting people. Pandemic comedies are certainly better than dramas but the thing is, one must approach it in the right way. The Bubble goes for the funny but the film is still realistic in the way it approaches a movie set falling apart during a global pandemic.

DIRECTOR: Judd Apatow
SCREENWRITERS: Judd Apatow, Pam Brady
CAST: Karen Gillan, Iris Apatow, Fred Armisen, Maria Bakalova, David Duchovny, Keegan-Michael Key,  Leslie Mann, Pedro Pascal, Peter Serafinowicz, Vir Das, Rob Delaney, Galen Hopper, Samson Kayo, Guz Khan, Nick Kocher, Ross Lee, Harry Trevaldwyn, Danielle Vitalis

Netflix will release The Bubble on April 1, 2022. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.