Don’t Look Up, 2021.
Written and Directed by Adam McKay.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, Melanie Lynskey, Himesh Patel, Michael Chiklis, Tomer Sisley, Paul Guilfoyle, Robert Joy, Ashleigh Banfield, Gina Gershon, Meghan Leathers, Ross Partridge, Frank Ridley, Hettienne Park, Conor Sweeney, Ben Sidell, Edward Fletcher, Robert Radochia, Tamara Hickey, Matthew Perry, and Chris Evans.
Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.
In writer and director Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up (which continues the filmmaker’s headfirst dive into political stories, carrying his signature irreverent humor), Leonardo DiCaprio’s astronomer Dr. Randall Mindy inevitably has a breakdown over society’s apathy toward a planet-killer comet arriving roughly six months from the time of its discovery. However, during his righteous outburst, he exclaims, “what the hell happened to us.”
And for a good reason; the US President Janie Orlean (a sociopathic, narcissistic, incompetent, self-centered leader played by Meryl Streep) and her manchild Chief of Staff son Jason (the reliably funny Jonah Hill) would rather bury and hide the information from the public until defending the planet becomes a practical strategy for reelection, the public is obsessed with the tumultuous love life of musicians Riley Bina and DJ Chello (played by talented artists Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi, respectively), newspapers have taken the story as far as they are willing to go for fear of legal repercussions, morning TV hosts Brie Evantee and Jack Bremmer (Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry) diffuse any seriousness with inappropriately timed comedy and aggravating optimism, and perhaps most concerningly relevant, half of America can’t agree on if the comet exists or not despite not only photographic evidence, but simply being able to look up and catch a glimpse of the falling star.
Don’t Look Up is technically a satire, but the longer it goes on, the more transparent a reflection of a depressingly hilarious real-life existence it becomes (all you have to do is replace the comet with COVID and climate change, and you have a depiction of modern times). Take Dr. Randall Mindy, who partners up with college grad student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) after she stumbles across the comet, embarking on a media tour together to warn Earth’s population of the impending doom. No one wants to hear about his math or his science, let alone investigate it to see if it’s worth trusting. Such willful ignorance and dismissal of facts run wild today.
The performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence are both high-strung and filled with anxiety, with each finding separate ways to cope as spreading the word further spirals into a mess. One seeks pleasure to escape not only the nightmare reality but the frustration that none of these people care about, whereas the other remains diligent and is pushed away for her troubles. There’s also some pointed gender commentary as Randall amusingly earns the reputation of AILTF (astronomer I’d like to fuck) where Kate is meme’d, ridiculed on the Internet, and labeled a crazy woman for speaking up.
Elsewhere is a billionaire technical genius tycoon distributing high-tech cell phones that can tap into the user’s feelings and psychological profile (occasionally buying content off various apps without consent in a hilarious bit that doesn’t necessarily go anywhere). Such an eccentric character belongs to Mark Rylance, playing BASH CEO Peter Isherwell with a high-pitched squeaky voice and greedy intentions of mining the comet for valuable minerals serving only to make the rich richer. That also sounds like real life if you factor in that Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg types became wealthier during the current global health crisis. Parallels aside, Mark Rylance is a scene-stealer cast farthest against type in a movie where that seems to have been the MO. Heartthrob Timothée Chalamet also shows up as the punkish and rebellious skateboarder Yule striking up a bond with Kate.
Creating this story alongside David Sirota, Adam McKay is overflowing with ideas, perhaps too many. As much as I admired how Don’t Look Up found ways to bring characters back into the spotlight or introduce new ones halfway into the narrative, there’s also a sense that the web is being spun too wide. Whether or not this mammoth-sized star-studded cast came down to Adam McKay himself or is another byproduct of Netflix throwing an insane amount of money at anyone and everything in hopes of rendering a project more irresistible in the eyes of users (in this case, I do believe it is the former since it started from Paramount), it’s excessive to the point where emotional responses are only elicited from some of the performances themselves (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, and Mark Rylance are all terrific for different reasons) and the jazzy score from one of the current great film composers, Nicholas Britell.
With that in mind, there is a compelling existential tone throughout the dark humor, some sharp editing that cuts between conversations while occasionally splicing in snippets of home-movie style footage from random families and animals, a song perfectly fitting for both film and reality from Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi, and enough maddening responses from average Americans that sadly feel ripped from current headlines. Strangely enough, it is some of the irreverent comedy that doesn’t work quite as well here (Ron Perlman plays an intentionally problematic colonel with no filter on his mouth and is sent to blow up the comet, except the jokes come across as lazy and unfunny). There are also a pair of comedic post-credit stingers that, while they got a chuckle out of me, felt wildly out of place given the tone of the climax.
Some will once again criticize Adam McKay for lacking subtlety, but it’s his blunt force that’s cathartic as it offers reassurance that, yes, the world actually is this crazy. Randall’s on-air meltdown should, hopefully, reflect the views of every sane individual left on this planet. Don’t Look Up is messy for sure, but it’s also hard to look away from the screen in simultaneous despair and nervous laughter.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com