CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Ron Perlman, Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi, Cate Blanchett, Himesh Patel, Chris Evans, Tomer Sisley, Melanie Lynskey, Gina Gershon, Michael Chiklis, Paul Guilfoyle
RUNNING TIME: 145 mins
BASICALLY…: Two astronomers (DiCaprio and Lawrence) must embark on a media tour to warn the world of an approaching, world-destroying comet…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
After two playful depictions of very serious real-life events with The Big Short and Vice, writer-director Adam McKay is back to full-on comedy mode – but Don’t Look Up is less Anchorman and Step Brothers, and more if Dr. Strangelove was made today and resulted in even graver circumstances for the entire world because of people’s inane stupidity.
McKay’s film is perhaps his most ambitious to date, telling a very satirical story that jabs at several aspects of our modern-day society and political climate, all within the context of a disaster movie plot like the one in Armageddon or Deep Impact. Not all of it lands, and occasionally it bites off more than it can chew, but Don’t Look Up is an angry, stress-inducing commentary on the uselessness of mankind at a pivotal moment in history.
The movie begins as two low-level astronomers – Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) – discover a 10km-long comet within the depths of space, only to find that it is on a direct collision course with Earth and, in six months’ time, it will cause an extinction-level event. Even worse, nobody else around them seems to care: their warnings are ignored by obnoxious US President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), and even when they embark on a media tour to warn the world of the comet and its impending destruction, more people are interested in pop star Riley Bina (Ariana Grande) and the off/on-again relationship with her rapper boyfriend (Scott Mescudi) than the news of the oncoming apocalypse. So begins the harder-than-it-should be mission to tell the world that the end of days are upon them, navigating everything from vapid daytime talk-show hosts (represented by Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry as a pair of ever-chirpy chatterboxes) to shady tech giants like Mark Rylance as a more sinister version of his character from Ready Player One, all of whom just simply want to look the other way when the evidence is literally hurtling towards them at startling speed.
If the likes of Armageddon and Geostorm are disaster movies by stupid people, Don’t Look Up is a disaster movie ABOUT stupid people, and McKay does not shy away from particular targets that are pretty much to blame for this eerily plausible satire. What it lacks in subtlety – no prizes for guessing which recent American President it is that Meryl Streep is inhabiting the spirit of – it makes up for with fierce mockery, like a particularly starry episode of South Park where it seems half of Hollywood has turned up to help McKay out with the satire. Among the numerous other names not yet mentioned are Jonah Hill as the President’s douchey son and Chief of Staff, Ron Perlman as a prejudiced coach chosen for a special mission into space, and Timothée Chalamet as a young slacker who later hooks up with Lawrence’s sceptical astronomer, adding up to an impressive ensemble cast playing wildly exaggerated corners of society that make the simple act of telling the world they’re about to die frustratingly more difficult.
You desperately feel the stress and annoyance building up within DiCaprio and Lawrence’s characters as their dire warnings keep falling on deaf – or more likely plugged-up – ears, even as it reaches a point where people seriously need to stop putting their tails between their legs and actually do something about this planet-ending comet. Both of them get some passionate Network-style outbursts, with DiCaprio in particular having the most heated moment in the film which comes as a cathartic calling-out of everyone’s ignorance. These actors all make McKay’s central commentary much more of a bitter pill to swallow, and like with The Big Short and Vice the filmmaker injects a rather dark sense of humour into the depressing chain of events which gives it more of a distinctive comedic personality in the vein of Dr. Strangelove or the little-seen Idiocracy. You will have scenes of DiCaprio and Lawrence practically begging these powerful people to do the right thing, but all they’re concerned about is their political stance or how much more money they can make by mining the oncoming comet for its valuable minerals. It’s devastating, but at its core it does know when to laugh at the vast idiocy these people carry with them like a badge of honour.
Its satirical ambitions, however, can often become too heavy to handle as it tries to tackle many different topics at the same time, from conservative news channels to tech conglomerates to Internet notoriety (after Lawrence has a profanity-laden outburst on national TV, she is instantly turned into the next big meme), and occasionally loses track of its main targets. There is an interesting arc with DiCaprio’s character as this scruffy-looking, nerdy astronomy professor who becomes a celebrity for his good looks and even starts an affair with Cate Blanchett’s character, but there is so much else going on in the movie that half the time you forget that it’s even a thing that’s happening, because it’s been luring your focus onto its numerous other slices of social commentary. With a cast this big, there’s only so much that you can do with each one of them, with some of them just coming and going before they even do anything of significance; Ariana Grande fans, for instance, may bemoan the fact that their popstar idol is barely in the movie (except to perform an amusingly on-the-nose anthem towards the final act), as is Timothée Chalamet whose role is only minor in the grander scheme of things.
It doesn’t completely stick the landing when it comes to its aiming towards most aspects of our dire society, but Don’t Look Up has ambition and satirical voice to spare, in a film that is far from perfect but is still respectable for what it sets out to do, which it largely accomplishes bar a few minor issues.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Don’t Look Up is an ambitious satire from writer-director Adam McKay who takes aim at several aspects of modern society, even if it doesn’t hit all its targets, with the help of a star-studded ensemble cast that makes the underlying stupidity of humanity frustrating to handle, and significantly more depressing than the arrival of a planet-killing comet.