Review: ‘Don’t Look Up’ (it’s funny because it’s true)

Once in a generation, a global crisis challenges humanity to set aside petty differences, execute a plan, and save the day. Actually, today’s no good — tomorrow’s not looking great, either — but soon… we promise.

When Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a previously unknown comet hurtling through our solar system, she calls in her mentor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) to confirm it. Unfortunately, “Comet Dibiasky” is on a collision course with Earth in six month’s time, and no one else knows. Coordinating with Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), the astronomers report their findings to President Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her nepotistic Chief of Staff (Jonah Hill), who take a position of “wait and assess” while staring down the barrel of an impending midterm election. Forbidden to talk about their findings, Kate and Randall decide to go public, but amid personal agendas, propaganda, and people unwilling to accept a doomsday scenario, it doesn’t seem to matter “the truth is out there.”

While writer/director Adam McKay is known for his film collaborations with Will Farrell and John C. Riley making movies like Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and Anchorman, his foray into more serious subjects like The Big Short and political satire like Vice calls attention to more than just farce. With the Netflix-leveraged Don’t Look Up, a mirror is held up against a polarized society, both poking fun at extinction-level-event films like Armageddon, Deep Impact, and most recently Greenland while also being frank about the world of disinformation we live in. With an all-star cast and boasting impressive special effects, will audiences show up for a thinly disguised global warming warning and the world’s apathy toward saving itself?

Don’t Look Up is a unique hybrid, a satire equal parts comedy and drama that avoids the silliness traps that undermine the subject. His work on Vice spoke to an ability to use unconventional techniques to get points across, entertaining while imparting information (including the infamous “Fake Shakespeare” bedroom scene). This isn’t biting satire; it’s blistering, like holding onto a boiling pot bare-handed until the pain receptors are dead and one’s hands are being cooked off the bone. As revelations unfold and contingency plans fail, McKay horrifically incorporates a situation comedy into a nihilistic drama in the best possible way: a super car blasting pop music and rocketing toward a concrete barrier in a thunderstorm — with ourselves as passengers — pretending to laugh at our driver’s foolishness while justifiably worried they won’t hit the brake in time… or at all.

The director has gone public that climate change scares him to death, but the film’s commentary on what people place importance in, their priorities in life, and an all-too human need to choose sides rather than consider the whole, is frustratingly on-point. Main characters also go through their five stages of grief, each revealing interesting things about one another as their masks in society start to slip. While the cast is great, the standout role is the Steve Jobs-esque Peter Isherwell played by Mark Rylance, the pitchman for an iOS clone called “BASH” (nodding to the Linux users still out there) who merely wants your phone to be “the friend you never had but always deserved.”

If the details here seem are vague, it’s because they are; the devil (and ensuing hilarity) is in the details. Peeling back the layers of a technological society with access to more information than any time in human history, it shouldn’t come as any surprise how many prefer to stare down at their funny cat memes than look up from their phones to see how screwed mankind might actually already be.

Don’t Look Up is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content, graphic nudity, drug content, and those creepy black bags the CIA put over people’s heads when they kidnap someone.

Four skull recommendation out of four

3 comments

  1. https://www.cnn.com/2021/12/29/opinions/dont-look-up-critical-mistake-thomas/

    While he’s been weird on social media about it — what did you think was going to happen? — I believe McKay was trying to show all sides of the argument in the hopes that, in the guise of entertainment, something might stick. For example: the scientists have discovered a fact, to which the highest authority in the land tables it. When they try to go public, the media tries to soft-pedal the news, which creates the opposite effect and seeds the divide. It’s the rule of thirds: one third wants to to act before it’s too late, one third likes things the way they are and actively disputes any view that disparages their world view or livelihood, and the last third is apathetic, not wanting to get involved and is “just so sick” of the rhetoric.

    The warning in the film is simple, but the final question is complex: how does a society fix that? Humans are amazing at coming together against a common enemy they can see and fight against, but concepts like “upgrading the aging/failing power grid” fall upon too many deaf ears as long as long as the light still comes on when the switch is flipped. Remember, if you don’t schedule maintenance for your machines, they will schedule it for you and on their own time table.

    My position is simple: if y’all blow yourselves up, I get to retire, so win-win… but I also don’t get any new movies to watch, so, you know — fix your sh*t. 💀

    Liked by 1 person

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