Don't Look Up
2021, R, 138 min. Directed by Adam McKay. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Melanie Lynskey, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi.
REVIEWED By Trace Sauveur, Fri., Dec. 10, 2021
Don’t Look Up is not as bad as writer/director Adam McKay’s previous outing, Vice.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that, though more intermittently fun, it’s just as self-congratulatory and sanctimonious. The director’s transition from goofball Will Ferrell vehicles to middle-brow, finger-wagging, Oscar-hopeful ensemble lectures has led him to the story of astronomers Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence) and Dr. Randall Mindy (DiCaprio). They have some bad news of their own: A comet big enough to decimate everyone and everything on planet Earth is headed straight our way, and we only have six months to do something about it. That may be enough time if anyone actually cared about what they had to say, but alas, they can’t seem to get anyone to listen. President Orlean (Streep) is too worried about what it will do to her election chances. Talk show hosts Brie Evantee (Blanchett) and Jack Bremmer (Perry) don’t like to get too serious on their show. Half the populace refuses to believe unequivocally, certifiably true, hard data based on well-founded and long-established math and science.
To get the obvious out of the way, yes, the doomsday comet and the apathetic response of the populace it’s preparing to demolish bear striking resemblance to both the impending climate catastrophe and the public’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kate and Randall’s attempts at convincing anyone in the media, government, or general public that this is something of grave concern are generally met with a farcical, sometimes effectively frustrating disregard. When they first arrive at the White House, they’re left waiting all day while the president and staff hold a birthday party, only to be told they’ll have to be put up in a hotel for the night to come back the next day. They’re once again left waiting, and then mocked and ridiculed once they finally get in the room.
Moments like these effectively re-create that same exasperation that comes with watching the powers that be or everyday climate/vaccine deniers refusing to engage with real-world facts for the sake of their own selfish ideologies. Once state leaders finally concede that this comet is more real than they thought, supposed wealth and business opportunities that would come with the rare gems and gold that compose it subsume its impending danger. In an interesting turn, even Dr. Randall starts to buy into it and believe that everything is under control by Orlean and tech/cellphone tycoon Peter Isherwell (Rylance, providing the film with its funniest performance).
But the film's lampooning can’t sustain its expansive run time. As usual with McKay, he’s made a satire for the people who already know all this, one for which they can pat themselves on the back as they watch, though he’s mad at those people too for not doing enough. I can handle that this is his way of venting, sure, but when it’s so actively shallow and condescending toward the entire spectrum of his audience, it becomes tough to swallow. Nothing about this is productive in the slightest, and its supposed insights are routinely vapid and Old Man-ish – this is radiating with “these kids and their dang phones” energy. McKay curbs some of his more obnoxious formal choices, with only one instance of on-screen explainer text and no real cutaway gags, but the manic editing and incessant self-righteousness remain.
It’s at least serviced somewhat by its moment-to-moment plotting and committed performers. The pace has an urgency to match the protagonists’ existential crises, and DiCaprio and Lawrence lift some of the more grating material. It’s fun to see Jonah Hill in a comedy setting again, Timothée Chalamet makes for a good greasy skate-rat, though his character could be cut completely, and Cate Blanchett can just show up and be the best part of something. It’s just a shame such an enormous ensemble gets relegated as the mouthpieces for someone so giddily, cynically pleased with just how much he has it all figured out. I’d be hard-pressed to find a filmmaker who, in a general sense, I agree with but whose movies irritate me in the way that Adam McKay’s do.
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Kimberley Jones, Dec. 21, 2018
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Don't Look Up, Adam McKay, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Melanie Lynskey, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi