Currently streaming on Netflix, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood and The Bubble mark Richard Linklater and Judd Apatow’s respective directorial debuts for the streaming giant. Having seen both of them over the weekend, I hate to say this but neither of their latest films turns out as good as they should be.
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
Writer-director Richard Linklater returns to rotoscoping animation in Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, marking his third time after Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006). The film takes place during the height of the 1960s space-race era, where young Stanley (voiced by Milo Coy) from Houston is secretly employed by NASA to be a test astronaut for the Apollo 10 1/2 mission. It was actually named as such due to NASA’s accidental mistake of building the lunar test module too small. And Stanley happens to be the right bright kid for the top-secret mission.
From there, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood takes us right back to the beginning before the mission takes place, as the adult Stanley (Jack Black) narrates throughout the film, chronicling his childhood living in the ’60s.
Visually speaking, the rotoscoping animation looks beautiful and striking. But as much as I enjoy listening to most of Black’s wonderfully subdued voiceover narration in this film, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood lacks neither a strong emotional nor storytelling hook to keep me occupied. Linklater seems to be more interested in cramming as many nostalgia-heavy childhood memories as possible (the film is partially inspired by his own childhood growing up in Houston) than fulfilling a coming-of-age tale about the protagonist (Stan). The childhood memories in question include referencing the 1960s pop culture from the popular TV shows (e.g. The Addams Family, Batman and Star Trek) to the theme park of the (now-defunct) AstroWorld.
Pop-culture nostalgia sure has its irresistible charm but that’s only as far as a film could go. Without an actual story to support its mere nostalgia factor, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood ends up looking like an overlong (despite clocking at just 97 minutes), self-indulgent nostalgia trip.
It’s hard to believe this is actually the work of a new Judd Apatow film and he’s hitting rock bottom with this one. Don’t get me wrong, The Bubble has a promising setup: A movie-within-a-movie that reminds me of 2008’s Tropic Thunder but with an added timely hook of a showbiz satire set during the pandemic era.
The film follows actress Carol Cobb (Karen Gillan), who suffers a career dip following her controversial movie role as a “half-Israeli, half-Palestinian” in Jerusalem Rising. The solution? Her agent persuades her to sign on for the sixth instalment of the popular Cliff Beasts franchise after abandoning the fifth movie the last time. And given the pandemic era, she has to undergo a mandatory 14 days of quarantine inside her room in the UK’s lush countryside hotel, where the filming takes place. From there, she reunites with her co-stars (among others include Leslie Mann’s Lauren Van Chance, David Duchovny’s Dustin Mulray and Keegan-Michael Key’s Sean Knox). There are new cast members joining as well including Dieter Bravo (Pedro Pascal) and a TikTok star, Krystal Kris (Iris Apatow).
So, in The Bubble, we see Apatow trying to satirise the strict working procedure while filming on a closed set during the pandemic era. And that is not all, as the film also explores celebrity egos as well as today’s Hollywood films in general and even the TikTok generation. Frankly, it has the potential of a good satirical Hollywood comedy. But Apatow’s scattershot direction, coupled with mostly annoying stars doing the silliest things (Iris Apatow’s Krystal Kris leading a TikTok dance with a (fake) dinosaur comes to mind) pretty much derails the film. It sure feels punishingly overlong at 126 minutes and the jokes are either lame or plain distasteful.
The Bubble might work better if it’s a YouTube sketch comedy rather than a feature-length film. The only time I’m enjoying streaming this otherwise dumpster fire of a so-called satirical comedy is some of the high-profile cameo appearances.