'Biosphere' Review: A Hilariously Thought-Provoking Sci-Fi Comedy

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Sterling K. Brown and Mark Duplass on 'Biosphere'
This uproariously funny and clever buddy comedy uses humor to talk about pressing societal issues.

Two dudes are in a biosphere after the world has ended. We don't know exactly why, or how long ago. But childhood friends Ray (Sterling K. Brown) and Billy (Mark Duplass), who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Mel Eslyn, in a stellar debut) are now presumably spending the rest of their days in a dome protecting them from whatever made Earth uninhabitable. Climate change feels implied but is never directly referenced. Ray is a charismatic, quietly confident scientist who built the biosphere, while Billy is a well-meaning putz who somehow served as the last president of the United States when end times happened. Humanity had to have already been on its last legs for Billy to be an elected official at any level of government.  

The biosphere is designed not just to sustain life, but to also maintain some semblance of normalcy. The guys play video games, exercise, read, cook and have the necessities for comfortable living, relatively speaking. But they both seem to recognize this can only last for so long, and it's a ceremonious seafood dinner, of all things, that sparks a doomsday scenario for their safety inside the dome, challenging their friendship, the way they see each other and the way they see themselves.  

And that's really all I feel I should say. The less you know about this movie going in, the better. No trailer, no detailed plot summary, not even too much discussion about the themes "Biosphere" is tackling. Because, rest assured, while it approaches some deep, important topics in the span of 106 minutes, even knowing what those are would tip you off to possible directions the story is headed. That doesn't seem fair. "Biosphere" made its world premiere with a surprise screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is appropriate for a movie you should embrace as a complete surprise.  

What I will tell you is "Biosphere" is creative, daring and hysterical. Eslyn and Duplass show no hesitation in pushing these two characters to unexpected, bold places. And they do so with comedy that often plays as both outrageous and tender. It's their conduit for the social commentary that reverberates throughout the biosphere and in the feelings and interactions of the last men on Earth who inhabit it.  

 Eslyn also makes a remarkably assured feature-length directorial debut, helming an ostensible sci-fi comedy that's so much more. A lot could go wrong with how this story is told and the messages it offers, and the seemingly unique but actually relevant questions it presents. She fearlessly handles this with sincere thoughtfulness and empathy.  

And when you have a cast of two, that dynamic had better work. Brown and Duplass are a delight to watch, both together and individually. Their chemistry as lifelong friends is believable from the moment we meet them on their morning jog around the dome, discussing the dynamics of video-game brothers Mario and Luigi. It's a galaxy-brain conversation you have only with someone you feel comfortable around. Their banter never feels forced, and it seems likely the screenplay was light on dialogue in some places to allow space for the two actors to just riff organically.  

A surprise entry at TIFF, and one of the most pleasant surprises of the year for me, "Biosphere" goes far deeper than what it means to live in a post-apocalyptic world, continually pushing the audience to consider the human experience in ways most ordinarily wouldn't. In the case of Ray and Billy, that consideration comes while stuck in a doomsday dome. Fortunately for us, all it could take is watching a movie.