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Bursting ‘The Bubble’

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The ongoing circumstances of the COVID pandemic have been part of our lives for so long that it can be difficult to remember what it was like before … everything. It has been going on for so long, in fact, that we’re seeing more and more creative endeavors that have spring from those circumstances.

As to whether that’s a good thing, your mileage may vary.

Writer-director Judd Apatow has thrown his hat into that particular ring with his new Netflix movie “The Bubble,” a comedy about a film crew sequestered in a hotel in order to make a big-budget entry in a popular franchise. Inspired by the real-life effort to film “Jurassic World Dominion” during the pandemic, it’s a shaggy satire intended to skewer the self-importance of Hollywood’s own bubble while also finding humor in the unexpected connections forged by forced proximity.

It's an interesting attempt, though uneven in terms of its success. While there are some laughs to be had, the reality is that many of the gags – inspired by truth though they may be – don’t quite land. That’s not to say that it’s a bad movie – I actually had a pretty good time – but with a cast this star-studded, my expectations were for something a little bit more.

Actress Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan) is being asked to return to the franchise that made her a household name. She is reluctant to rejoin the “Cliff Beasts” franchise for this, the sixth installment, after bailing on the fifth film to make a passion project – one that proved woefully wrongheaded and that was received universally poorly – though she eventually agrees.

However, since this is taking place in the early days of the pandemic, the filming experience is going to be vastly different. The entire cast is to be sequestered under one roof, in a hotel in the English countryside, under the supervision of producer Gavin (Peter Serafinowicz).

It’s quite an ensemble. There’s the former couple Dustin Mulray (David Duchovny) and Lauren Van Chance (Leslie Mann). You’ve got positive thinker and maybe-cultist Sean Knox (Keegan-Michael Key). There’s angry comic relief Howie Frangopolous (Guz Khan) and addled Method weirdo and Oscar winner Dieter Bravo (Pedro Pascal). Oh, and there’s an inexperienced TikTok influencer named Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow) in the mix as well. The director is Darren Eigen (Fred Armisen), a Sundance darling whose sole previous film was something he made on his phone while working at a Home Depot.

The limited staff includes health supervisor Gunther (Harry Trevaldwyn) and everything-else guy Bola (Samson Kayo), as well as hotel staff Anika (Marina Bakalova) and Ronjon (Vir Das).

As the group moves in and out of quarantine, their personal issues spill over onto the relentlessly green-screened set. And it soon becomes clear, as the shoot runs over and an initial three-month shoot threatens to become much longer, that like it or not, they’re stuck here, because whenever anyone tries to leave, there are … consequences.

Alliances and antagonisms ebb and flow as the group tries desperately to finish the film, even as many of them start to question – in their own ways – just why they’re here.

“The Bubble” is a hit-or-miss experience in a lot of ways. It’s almost episodic in nature, with the narrative carved up into individual scenes. This choppiness results in a narrative flow that is somewhat lacking – unsurprising, given the nature of the project, but still a bit distracting.

That lack of consistency spills over into the relative quality of the individual moments. Oddly enough, the least successful moments of the film are the ones that take place during the actual “filming” of “Cliff Beasts 6.” While there’s some humor in seeing the juxtaposition of actors set against the CGI landscape versus their green-screen reality, it never quite clicks. It’s OK, but considering the considerable comedic talents at work, it’s not all that funny.

Much better are the interpersonal vignettes that play out in the hotel as the cast members are forced to engage with one another on a regular basis. Whether it is the off-putting positivity of Key’s Sean or the on-again/off-again selfishness of Duchovny and Mann as Dustin and Lauren, there’s fun to be had. Khan and Pascal are genuinely hilarious throughout – Khan with his profane directness and Pascal with his drug-addled wanderings. The TikTok dance videos we see from Kris featuring her and the rest of her fellow castmates are a highlight. Gillan’s slow descent into madness has its moments, as does Gavin’s constant struggle to keep the project moving forward at the behest of his boss (Kate McKinnon).

There’s some inside Hollywood stuff that is fine, an attempt to skewer that world’s self-involvement and self-importance. We get some COVID gags that will ring familiar as well – wiping down groceries and invasive tests and harshly enforced distancing – but that aren’t all that funny. Not because it’s too soon (although it might be), but because they feel a bit trite and hackneyed – low-hanging fruit.

The cast does their best, but try as they might, they can’t quite get there. I mentioned Khan and Pascal, who are my personal highlights. Key is very good, while I still find myself smiling when I think about Duchovny doing TikTok dance moves. Gillan is the ostensible centerpiece, but she doesn’t get a ton to do. Serafinowicz has some good moments, as does Bakalova (particularly when she’s fending-off-but-not-really Pascal’s advances). But while others have moments here and there, a lot of the performances here are sadly kind of forgettable.

“The Bubble” is one of those films that probably sounded better on paper. That said, I’ll admit that this review probably reads harsher than my actual experience – if you put a bunch of talented people together on a project, odds are you’ll wind up with something that is watchable enough. And that’s what this film is – watchable. It won’t change your life, but if you’re looking for a distraction – and you are ready for a pandemic-centered comedy – you might have some fun.

[3 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 04 April 2022 11:34

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