Lot of movies were made during the pandemic lockdown, but few addressed what life was like on a quarantined movie set. “The Bubble,” the new Judd Apatow comedy now streaming on Netflix, is a Hollywood satire that mixes-and-matches spoiled stars on a film set with COVID protocols like social distancing, daily antigen tests and a no hooking up with your co-stars rule.
Set during the height of the pandemic, “The Bubble” brings the cast of the dinosaur action pic “Cliff Beasts 6” to a luxury hotel in England for two weeks of quarantining before shooting. Under the watchful eye of a beleaguered producer (Peter Serafinowicz) and inept health official Josh (Chris Witaske), the cast, including franchise star Dustin Mulray (David Duchovny), his on-again-off-again love interest Lauren Van Chance (Leslie Mann), action star Sean Knox (Keegan-Michael Key), actress on the verge of a comeback Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan), character actor Dieter Bravo (Pedro Pascal) and TikTok superstar Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow) arrive and are promptly locked away for two weeks.
For most of them the return to the franchise is simply a matter of a paycheck. For first time director Darren Eigan (Fred Armisen), however, it is a career making gig if only he can wrangle the stubborn actors into seeing his vision.
As the shooting drags on, the actors break rules, hook up and mutiny, all the while complaining that they are being mistreated. “You’re being ‘actor’ mistreated,” says an exasperated manager. “I’m being human being mistreated.”
Basing a comedy on the pandemic is a nervy move. Most of us lived it, locking down and playing by the rules, but part of the pleasure of “The Bubble” is watching these pampered and privileged people placed in a situation where their money and fame don’t matter. Early on, Carol, in isolation in a posh hotel room, devolves into a fugue state despite the splendor surrounding her. It’s an early indication that the pandemic is the great leveler and is fodder for several very funny scenes.
Also pointed is Apatow’s skewering of Hollywood. Ego runs rampant as the insecure actors jump from bed to bed, complain about the script—”It goes against dinosaur logic,” says an oh-so-serious Mulray—and attempt escape from the ever-watchful security. From starting new religions and delivering nasty drop-dead zingers—”I think all the critics around the world were wrong,” says Lauren to Carol in reference to the dreadful Rotten Tomatoes score of her flop “Jerusalem Rising.”—to well-cast and weird cameos from Benedict Cumberbatch and James McAvoy and on-set hi jinx, Apatow hits the nail on the head. Sometimes a little too squarely, but it is an entertaining ride.
The pandemic backdrop of “The Bubble” is a serious, all too recent memory, but luckily the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. Apatow, whose streak of sticking with a story for just a bit too long is uninterrupted here, finds the right tone, and as the story and characters spin out of control, he finds the funny and doesn’t let go.