Sterling K. Brown & Mark Duplass play friends facing the end of the world in a smart & timely comedy-drama.
Biosphere hums along through its initial 30 minutes. With focused interplay from the only two actors in the film, Mark Duplass and Sterling K. Brown, the sci-fi buddy comedy creates laughter simply with the leads’ chemistry. But, the tone of the film shifts leading into its second act, taking a concept and stretching it until it’s about to break. That tonal and dramatic change engineers a tenderness that seems unlikely considering the twists of the plot.
Written by Duplass and Mel Eslyn, a longtime producer of Duplass productions in her directorial debut, Biosphere rests on the easy companionship of these actors. Duplass and Brown act like genuine friends, and their relationship feels decades-old, not fabricated on a set. They play off one another with ease, fulfilling standard comedic roles yet still becoming lived-in characters. It’s credit to the script and the performances. Without each of them fully committed to the absurdist lengths of this bit, Biosphere loses all credibility as a drama.
The space is limited in the film, a Covid-era film that requires a single, sterilized location. The two men, Ray (Brown) and Billy (Duplass), live as the final humans on Earth inside of a dome built by the former. They’ve survived a form of societal collapse, possibly brought on by Billy’s ineptitude as President. The two have been friends since childhood, constantly harkening back to a story about a magician who pulled a bowling ball out of supposed thin air.
Without exposing the film’s big reveal, and its subsequent ending, I’ll instead elect to write on the themes explored by Duplass and Eslyn, the largest of which being current masculinity. Ray and Billy are put into an interesting position beginning in the second act, one that puts an emphasis on the definition of masculinity, an exploration of gender becoming Biosphere’s focus. It requires the writers and actors to both take risks and be sensitive concurrently. They succeed by straddling a line of remaining conscientious while taking liberal swings.
Biosphere’s comedy thrives on a slew of influences and references. Ray and Billy spend their days jogging about the hub, playing Super Mario Bros, watching the same movies, and reading the same books over and over again. A line from Jurassic Park becomes a north star for these last remaining men. It uses pop culture as various sticking points, reengagement for an audience that might be drifting from the central story, one that’s already extended a bit thin. It’s smart writing from Duplass and Eslyn, and it creates random connective tissue in an otherwise fantastical premise.
For fans of the Duplass Brothers’ style of movie-making, stripped-down, talky dramas with a singular premise, Biosphere will work, even if it requires more of an imagination than their usual fare. For others, the film represents a risk, a chance on a twist that is telegraphed but not fully fleshed out. Seeing this film comes with an inherent lack of knowledge, and there’s something exciting about that. Amongst a sea of trailers that show audiences beat-by-beat plot summaries, Biosphere reveals little. It works as a surprise.
The beauty of the film is that it also will work if you already know the twist. The script is sharp, the performances are tuned to a specific brand of dramatic humor, and the set design uses minimalism to its advantage. The key to Biosphere lies in not knowing how far they’ll take this concept, how far the cast and crew will push into the unknown, and how these two actors will land this tricky ride. Much to my delight, they embrace the unknown. With regards to Biosphere, maybe we embrace it, too.
Biosphere is now playing in select theaters.