The drop in quality between Judd Apatow’s comedy The Bubble and his previous effort The King of Staten Island is staggering, confusing, and disappointing. The King of Staten Island was, in my opinion, the best movie of 2020. While The Bubble is in contention to be the worst movie of 2022.
It isn’t enough to call The Bubble unfunny or too long, though both of those notes would be true. Clocking in at just over two hours, there isn’t a single laugh in Apatow’s showbiz satire that’s set during the early phases of a global pandemic. The movie pitches snide jokes about popcorn entertainment being taken more seriously than personal safety, as well as goofs towards self-serious actors who are either committed to a project no matter how inane it is or refuse to check their ego at the door. However, the silly digs at actors are not fresh, as is the mockery of show business and committee filmmaking. These are broad jabs, and we expect more from Apatow, South Park co-writer Pam Brady, and comedic actors of this calibre. The pandemic material is ill-timed considering this type of observational humour has been covered over the past couple of years (the same criticism could apply to Netflix’s persistently annoying Death To… series). Had these jokes been conceived from a witty angle, The Bubble may have gotten away with the timely topic.
I want to believe that The Bubble feels so out of touch to Judd Apatow’s previous work because the filmmaker is challenging himself by making an ensemble farce. His comedies have had ensembles in the past, but Apatow’s prime skill is honing in on a comic’s strengths and moulding their personalities towards interesting stories. It’s a skill he’s perfected over the course of his directorial career. The Bubble broadens his focus too much and, by placing too much attention on shared conflict, he fails to engage with any of his actors on an intimate level (including wife Leslie Mann and daughter Iris Apatow). He also places too much faith in shared gags, such as extended choreographed dance numbers, which also smothers any potential for interesting personal dynamics between characters.
While it’s important for filmmakers to step outside their comfort zone (their “bubble”, if you will), it’s also important for these filmmakers to be aware enough of what’s not working. In the case of The Bubble, it’s shocking that Judd Apatow didn’t know this project needed to be workshopped some more.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie