A late addition to the Toronto International Film Festival lineup, Biosphere ended up being one of the biggest surprises of this year’s festival. It’s the type of weird, daringly original comedies that put the Duplass Brothers on the map thanks to a brilliant script by director/co-writer Mel Eslyn and co-writer/star Mark Duplass.
Biosphere tells the story of two men, presumably the last people alive on Earth, as they live out their days in a contained biosphere and must find a way to save the future of humanity. If the title gives you trauma-induced flashbacks to the Pauly Shore vehicle Bio-Dome, don’t fear, because Eslyn’s movie is something much more intelligent and very funny.
The twist that happens about midway through this film is probably the wildest thing you’ll ever see in a movie. Whatever you think this movie might be, you’re wrong. It’s a concept that feels like it should be enormously insensitive and come up entirely short, but Eslyn and Duplass manage to pull it off against the odds.
Much of the film’s success boils down to the performances of Duplass and his co-star Sterling K. Brown. Even though there is an inherent absurdity to what they are being asked to do, Duplass and Brown approach their roles in a way that is completely straight-faced. This sells the movie as a legitimate commentary on its themes rather than something insensitive.
That said, the film is still very funny and will have audiences laughing uncomfortably. It’s the perfect balance of dumb and genuinely insightful to work. There are some obvious routes that Eslyn and Dulass could have taken to make jokes about this premise, and while they do go down a few of those paths, they also find humor in some of the more unlikely, nuanced places.
What we are left with is a movie that is a fascinating exploration of the themes of masculinity and humanity. It’s surprisingly an emotional watch, as the audience becomes attached to these characters and will feel strangely moved by the emotional journey they experience over the course of the film.
For this to be Eslyn’s feature debut as a director, it’s surprisingly accomplished. Of course, she’s been one of the main producers to work with Duplass on his movies over the last decade or so, so she’s gotten plenty of experience. Regardless, the way in which she blends lo-fi sci-fi with silly comedy is almost masterful.
Biosphere is going to be an absolute nightmare to sell to audiences without misleading them or revealing the twist that makes the film so great, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the best comedies of the year. It’s almost a miracle that this movie works as well as it does, but it’s a film that audiences won’t soon forget. 10/10.
Biosphere screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which ran September 8-18.