Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” aims to be a cheeky satire that points a finger at capitalist greed in the era of false news, but flat jokes and an overwhelming cast severely undermines the film’s mojo.
“Don’t Look Up” is a Netflix movie that sets out to bottle the chaos and confusion that we are all living through right now: the result is a discordant and confused film that does a very good job at capturing the unique blend of exhaustion and anger that we’ve been lugging around for the last few years. World-ending events have just been coming and going, and we’ve become desensitized. It’s physically impossible for us to become more worried — we have to turn off the anxiety and enjoy our lives somehow. These themes are echoed in the premise of the film; “Don’t Look Up” stars Leonardo DiCaprio as astronomy professor Randall Mindy and Jennifer Lawrence as PhD student Kate Dibiasky who discover that a giant comet is headed directly towards Earth. When the two set out to share their findings with the general public, havoc is unleashed.
The movie rests on the shoulders of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, but Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Ariana Grande, Timothee Chalamet, and Cate Blanchett are just some of the other names that make an appearance. Beyond the core cast though, everyone else’s appearance feels forced, and it really doesn’t feel like the characters are coming together or even adding anything to the story. The roller coaster of emotions also makes it really difficult to connect with any of the characters; they all seem to veer from one extreme to another. Jennifer Lawrence’s character in particular swings between apathy and anger with alarming frequency. She handles an impending apocalypse with grace, but slips into a depressive episode when her boyfriend breaks up with her. To be clear, there is nothing particularly wrong with this; the movie just doesn’t take the time to fully explore the character’s development, leaving the audience with a sense of whiplash and an incomplete picture of who Kate Dibiasky is. Each character is going through their own experiences, but in attempting to capture all of their stories, the movie is unable to create a compelling narrative and ends up bouncing wildly. The result is a sort of cacophony rather than the harmony we’ve come to expect; the story flares up, then mellows down suddenly; the highs and lows come and go, never quite letting you settle in. The movie’s editing also feels discordant and frantic, switching from languid, lingering shots to rough, panicked scenes.
The themes of “Don’t Look Up” echo those of “Wall-E” or “2012,” with additional attempts to bring a dash of comedy and satire to the mix. The issue is that the film is just … not funny. There is a bit of situational irony here and there, and the bizarreness might shock a laugh out of you, but most of the jokes don’t land. For example, there is a scene where Meryl Streep addresses the country in the face of an apocalypse, but spends most of her speech leaning into nationalistic ideology and exits into a shower of fireworks. While it is insane, it pales in comparison to the reality that we are living through, making for very ineffective satire. Juxtaposing celebrity relationship news with doomsday news just isn’t that funny in 2021 because we’ve lived through it. The political commentary is blatantly on the nose and the film starts to drag very quickly, especially with a runtime of 2 hours and 20 minutes. Despite its lofty goals, or perhaps due to them, “Don’t Look Up” ends up feeling frenzied and chaotic and fails to bring anything new to the table.
Directed by: Adam McKay
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence
Release Date: December 24, 2021
Image courtesy of ComicBook.com.