Movie Review: Don’t Look Up (2021)
DON’T LOOK UP (REVIEW)
Just released on Netflix, Adam McKay’s latest movie is a dark comedy.
It satirizes the baffling global indifference to man-made climate change. Alas, since our planet’s imminent doom still appears to be perhaps a century away — and besides, who’s going to be around 100 years from now to care about that anyway — instead, McKay enlists a comet hurtling through space headed straight for earth on a catastrophic collision course. The clock is ticking. We’re six months from being blown up and buried atop the dinosaurs. McKay’s metaphorical comet could just as easily be intended to ridicule the current mass confusion over global pandemics, or any other threat to civilization. No one cares about pending Armageddon until it’s way too late — and even as the world burns there are still plenty of delusional dimwits wallowing in mass denial.
Science is smart. People are dumb. And social media is the poison pill of all stupidity.
Don’t Look Up is both a hit and a miss. First, let’s discuss the hits.
The all-star cast is stellar. Leo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi, Himesh Patel, Melanie Lynskey, Michael Chiklis, Tomer Sisley, Paul Guilfoyle, and Robert Joy round out the leads. Standout performances include Jonah Hill, who zings many of the best lines in the movie as the shallow and smarmy, but imminently absorbing White House Chief of Staff to the president, played by Meryl Streep. Mark Rylance also manages to steal every scene he’s in, playing a scary Elon Musk-Jeff Bezos-Steve Jobs grand “visionary” who is frighteningly spot on in these times. For those under the naive assumption that presidents and prime ministers run the world, umm, think again. It’s the oligarchs who have all the power and really pull the money and puppet strings.
The movie is a blistering indictment of science deniers in all forms of willful ignorance. Well, more of a bitch slap. Donald Trump is never cited by name, but the imagery is crystal clear. Far-Right media has stirred up the susceptible base, turning every facet of the comet’s advance towards earth into an opportunity to deny, obstruct, and proselytize. Indeed, “Don’t Look Up” becomes the 3-word rallying cry of the science-denying, overtly political patriots who fear “big guvmint.” Like “build the wall” and lock her up,” it’s a cheap catchphrase intended to tickle the hate within people. Don’t look up, people. Nope, that comet isn’t really there. Global warming is a hoax. COVID and OMICRON are vast conspiracies. You get the picture. But the Right isn’t alone in the gallows here. The mainstream media fares just as poorly, absorbed in superfluous gossip and celebrity gawkism, while the world faces a perilous end. And social media provides a steady pipeline of lies, pollutants, and carnival distractions to fuel the confusion.
If some of this sounds familiar, McKay has covered this territory before. His 2015 masterpiece The Big Short satirized the near-collapse of capitalism in the global economic meltdown of 2008. Three years later, he wrote and directed Vice, a biopic on former Vice President Dick Cheney. Prior to that, however, McKay unleashed three horrific Anchorman blockbusters upon the world, plus Get Hard, which doesn’t need much of an introduction aside from the title. As for the missing part of the hit-and-miss grade I give this, McKay’s Don’t Look Up would have been a much better film had he stuck with the for more clever Big Short formula, instead of so often reverting to the juvenile distractions of Anchorman caricatures. This is a near-flaw in the film, which devolves from camp comedy to several scenes and dialogue that are just plain dumb. I also didn’t buy into several plot twists, which won’t be divulged here for fear of spoilers.
The last ten minutes of the film, though, is fantastic. Equally haunting and hilarious, it’s reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove in imagery with lots of freeze-framing. There’s a powerful and poignant moment of reconciliation. Leo DiCaprio, playing the brave but flawed scientist who desperately tried to warn the world that doomsday was coming says, “We really did have everything, didn’t we? It’s just as much a moment of deep self-reflection as a prophecy.
Also, a warning — don’t turn off the movie too early. After the credits begin rolling, there’s a wonderful surprise ending in the epilogue. It’s wonderful and not to be missed.
In summation, Don’t Look Up is a movie that deserves to be seen, with plenty of laughs, certain to inflame passions and divide public opinion given the current political and social climate. It’s doubtful many minds will change. But as Jennifer Lawrence’s character says, “at least we tried. It was good that we tried.”