I am surprised that we have not been treated to more navel-gazing from the film industry about the impacts of the pandemic on production and box office sales. In fact, after a small batch of movies and limited series set during the early days of the pandemic, Hollywood seemed to have moved on. Then came The Bubble.
Netflix’s The Bubble follows the cast of Cliff Beast 6, a sci-fi action movie, as they film the sequel during the early phase of the covid-19 pandemic. Movie stars Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan), Dieter Bravo (Pedro Pascal), Sean Knox (Keegan-Michael Key), Lauren Van Chance (Leslie Mann), and Dustin Mulray (David Duchovny), along with TikTok sensation Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow), all quarantine at a lavish hotel for two weeks before beginning production under the guidance of their director, Darren Eigen (Fred Armisen), fresh off his success filming a movie at Home Depot on his phone. The strains of isolation wreak havoc on the fragile Hollywood egos, however, and the shoot soon goes terribly over-budget and off-schedule.
I cannot believe that this movie was over two hours long. It seems to have been written during those shutdown days that lasted forever and was not edited to get rid of the bloat. There are too many characters, too many side plots, and too many bad jokes. It is just not amusing to watch people snort cocaine or have boring conversations at cocktail parties. Remember in 2020 when celebrities got heavily criticized for complaining on social media as though they do not live privileged, pampered lives? The Bubble attempts to poke fun at that dynamic but fails to land the joke.
Funnily enough, the highlight of this almost unwatchable movie, was director Judd Apatow’s daughter, Iris. As TikTok star-turned-actress, Krystal Kris, Apatow has some of the best lines, and her doe-eyed performance adds naivete to an otherwise cynical story. Krystal filming TikToks also adds a few silly dance numbers, including one with the whole cast that would be fun to watch even as a stand-alone bit.
Ultimately, my favorite joke in The Bubble (in which a production assistant confesses that he did not know where to send the Covid-19 swabs, so they’re all still at his house) is buried at the end of a tedious, meandering movie that perhaps demonstrates a disconnect between how audiences view Hollywood and how Hollywood views itself.
The Bubble was directed by Judd Apatow, who wrote the screenplay with Pam Brady. It runs 2 hours 6 minutes and is rated R for language, sexual content, drug use, and violence.
On HBO Max, The Girl Before fits firmly in that mystery genre lampooned by The Woman Across the Street from the Girl in the Window. I read the book when it first came out, but I do not remember enough about it to know how faithful of an adaptation the HBO limited series is. Set in two timelines, the show tells the story of Jane (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Emma (Jessica Plummer), two women who have recently experienced traumatic events and look for a fresh start in an unusual living arrangement in an ultra-minimalist house designed by Edward (David Oyelowo), a mysterious, demanding architect.
The Girl Before is a slow, slow burn contained to just four episodes. The compactness of the limited series means that the suspense builds just long enough before the story comes to a somewhat predictable end. The restraint in the number of episodes, a rare occurrence in today’s streaming culture, also fits with the minimalist aesthetic, exemplified by the house that serves as the centerpiece of the story. The house was the only part of the book that I remembered clearly and the production did an amazing job of building that set, making the architecture and technology characters themselves.
The human characters were portrayed in outstanding performances by Plummer and Mbatha-Raw. Whereas Plummer shows Emma at confident high points as well as suffering from post-traumatic stress, Mbatha-Raw works amazingly within the retrained nature of Jane’s personality to still convey the depths of her grief. As Emma’s boyfriend, Simon, Ben Hardy shows range, even if his performance weakens in the last episode.
The Girl Before is sometimes hard to watch because of the dark places it goes emotionally, but the beautiful art direction and compelling performances kept me gripped. The story also sneaks in important points about prenatal and neonatal care without coming off like a PSA.