Judd Apatow’s The Bubble features a brilliant cast and lots of pandemic humor – unfortunately, it was released about a year too late.
Judd Apatow’s The Bubble is far from a bad movie, but it was released too late to be received in the way it deserved. Featuring a fantastic ensemble cast that includes Karen Gillan, Pedro Pascal, Leslie Mann, and Keegan Michael Key, The Bubble sends up showbusiness, actors, and pandemic life itself. It’s a film conceived during a historically dark time, designed to fight that darkness with wide-ranging stabs at levity; which does land to varying degrees of effect. Apatow himself has stated that the film was edited with the assumption that viewers would stop and start it, and that certain jokes were left in that may please a niche audience rather than a wide one.
Perhaps for that reason, The Bubble sits at 23% on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the film’s dedicated cast and surprising cameos, critics have lambasted its humor and story, making The Bubble 2 an unlikely proposition. What’s missing in much of the discussion about the film, however, is the intention behind it and the spirit in which it’s meant to be viewed. This is ultimately an unfortunate product of its 2022 release, rather than a fault of the film.
The Bubble is in part a reaction to the beginning of the pandemic which, when viewed for the first time through the eyes of an maskless, boosted population two years on, is destined not to resonate with some viewers. Apatow himself said in a Netflix interview that the whole purpose of the film is to help audiences commiserate on the struggles the pandemic created – something that was sorely needed even a year ago but is less desirable now. In that way, The Bubble‘s ending, which pokes fun at the making of the movie’s film-within-a-film with a post-pandemic perspective, was actually slightly prophetic.
The Bubble Succeeds when viewed through a 2020, or even 2021, lens. The quarantine jokes and isolation humor that may seem obvious now would have been much more relatable when written and filmed. The Bubble was designed to be viewed during a time when entertainment was one of the few things keeping people sane during waves of uncertainty and sadness, and it’s to the film’s detriment that it was released on streaming as moviegoers flock back to the theaters and newer pretend the COVID-19 pandemic never existed.
As Fred Armisen’s director of the movie-within-a-movie Cliff Beasts 6 himself says: “Well, we tried to make a movie. You can’t judge us for that. We made something that’s a distraction in these difficult times.” The Bubble is a fine piece of pandemic art that brings lightheartedness to the crushing reality its protagonists face. It seems made to live in the world where series like Tiger King reigned and shows released pandemic-related one-offs (like the absolutely fantastic Mythic Quest special). The Bubble is not a perfect film, but it may have been appreciated and even cherished by viewers who hadn’t yet caught a glimpse of post-pandemic life.
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