Lots of critics spoke about Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up in relation to Dr. Strangelove but it was a comparison it didn’t earn. Don’t get me wrong, Judd Apatow’s latest doesn’t either, but at least this one is tonally even. Like Kubrick’s masterpiece, both of these contemporary movies find humour in frightening situations we have had to face and even though this one is lighter and sillier, it is somehow is the more successful.
The Bubble does not have the ambition of Don’t Look Up but this is partly where it wins. Dr. Strangelove wasn’t aiming for any great statement either, it just saw things how they were and parodied them. Again, let me state that I do not think The Bubble comes close to matching the intelligence of its classic antecedent but it has a similar free flowing approach and the jokes, broad as they are, do generally land.
As well as its sharp script Dr. Strangelove had two great performances from Peter Sellers and George C. Scott (famously it actually it had three great performances from Sellers), and both were ably supported by a range of quality character actors. Don’t Look Up, with Lawrence, DiCapro, Blanchett, Streep, Hill, Rylance and Chalamet probably edges The Bubble here but Apatow similarly fills his cast with recognisable faces. Some of these such as Gus Khan, Keegan Michael-Key, Kate McKinnon (apparently reprising her role from Yesterday) and the director’s partner Leslie Mann are used to playing it for laughs and manage this fairly effortlessly. Iris Apatow, Judd and Leslie’s daughter, also shows herself well able to join the family business. Amongst these though you have David Duchovny, Karen Gillan and Pedro Pascal who have never seemed as comfortable in comedy as they are in dramas but still commit to the material. Pascal might have done better to have followed George C. Scott’s lead and just played it straight. This would probably have been funnier. Some of the lesser known supporting players actually register more with particularly strong performances from Harry Trevaldwyn, Samson Kayo and Borat’s Maria Bakalova.
There are also a plethora of big name cameos although, despite him being in the cast listing on IMDb, I’m sure one of them is just done with the reface video app. There is a genuine celebrity appearance with someone of note playing against Pedro Pascal that is going to make the Star Wars slash fiction writers go nuts.
The context in which The Bubble’s characters deal with situations we have all become familiar with (LFTs, isolation, video calls, social distancing) is one that is particular to only a few. This is the next in a long line of movies about making movies, including Dolemite is My Name, Get Shorty, Ed Wood, Tropic Thunder and Singin’ in the Rain. In these parts of the film they are taking big swings, mostly at the Jurassic Park franchise, and less of these gags succeed. Only at one point, with one of the vicious dinosaurs being miraculously tamed, do they highlight any aspect where the Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard movie (that was truly one of the few blockbusters filming during the height of the pandemic) deserve to be mocked. The joke about a film series being on the ropes because it is on its sixth instalment is about seven years out of date. Believe me, the egg is not on the face of Jurassic World: Dominion (aka Jurassic Park 6) here.
The Bubble does lose its way a bit toward the end and a scene where a big Hollywood actor slaps someone he is working with is not as funny as it would have been a week ago. (Will Smith has ruined staged movie violence by showing it isn’t the same when it’s on a stage but not in a movie, and there is something strangely profound in that.)
Ultimately, The Bubble is very well meaning (unlike Don’t Look Up) and you do get swept along with it. It’s not a great film but it’s a pretty good night in front of the telly.
The Ripley Factor:
None of the female characters come over very well but this isn’t a gender thing, no one does. There is a running theme about women getting unfairly aged out of the industry, which is unfortunately still relevant but not new.
Some of the female supporting players keep their heads where others are randomly losing other body parts (I told you it loses it’s way) but this isn’t really a feminist statement. Early on it looks like Bakalova’s character is playing a smart game with the advances of one of the arrogant actors staying in her hotel but actually she’s not and she just becomes a trope.
Covid was described as a great leveller but woman remain too often disrespected in cinema, and this film does not burst that bubble.