Don’t Look Up: McKay on the Past (and maybe last?) Few Years on Earth
Image Description: a comet travelling through space towards Earth.
My family suggested we put on Don’t Look Up at that point on Christmas Day when everyone is sufficiently wine-drunk that napping in front of the TV is acceptable. However, this was not to be like every other Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, my father had already achieved a smug Scrabble victory and burnt the ham in the oven, but Don’t Look Up prised me away from my long awaited 4PM slumber.
Written, directed, and produced by Adam McKay, Don’t Look Up follows two astronomers on their struggle to inform the planet about a newly discovered comet which will collide with Earth and lead to the extinction of all life on it. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence both shine in these scientific roles as they are stumped at every turn by modern day media and politics in their mission to warn the world.
The film feels very of its time, and similar in many ways to McKay’s other screenplay, The Big Short, in its ability to create a playful commentary on a number of issues which are shaping our modern society and culture. Given his climate activism, it is no surprise that DiCaprio was willing to take the lead in a film with such a clear message on misinformation and corruption. His character perfectly embodies much of the frustration associated with climate change politics as we see people manipulated by alternative realities in the name of capital gain, and at the threat of the entire planet. His performance serves to inspire the all-too-familiar urge to bash your head against your desk as you further see the truth obscured in the name of power politics and greed.
“DiCaprio’s performance serves to inspire the all-too-familiar urge to bash your head against your desk as you further see the truth obscured in the name of power politics and greed.”
The conspicuous parody of the Trump establishment with Meryl Streep at the helm being guided along by the douche-y advice of an on-form Jonah Hill provides another amusing dimension of satire. These characters aid the film to conjure a unique experience of being both comical and, in moments, highly uncomfortable as we see a mirror being held up to the state of the world around us.
The President (Streep) and Chief of Staff (Hill) are at once laughable caricatures of power-hungry despots in the Western World and shocking case studies in the reality of getting, and staying elected in the social media age.
Aside from Hill and Streep, the rest of the star-studded supporting cast all turn up with Kate Blanchett playing a stereotypically insufferable media type who pairs well with her TV co-host played by Tyler Perry. Mark Rylance in the role of a Zuckerberg-Bezos-Musk tech giant is sufficiently slimy and morally corrupt to make the comet hurtling towards Earth look like the film’s protagonist.
Don’t Look Up also has a significant musical appeal to match. The main title theme has absolutely no right to be as epic as it is: I was immediately hooked by the rich horns and screaming trumpet line that blasted over the visually bold opening credits. And, if the return of a nearly 50-year-old DiCaprio to our screens was not enough to get you interested, the film also features a brand new single from Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi about why we should put our trust in scientists. McKay’s project is not one lacking scope and has something to offer everyone.
One major critique of the film is it can often feel a bit too ‘liberal Hollywood’. McKay has clearly got a lot to say, and even as someone who agrees with much of his message, the film’s social commentary at times felt smug and lacking in humility.
I also found myself confused about what was being attempted with Lawrence’s character. Her noticeable exclusion from DiCaprio’s media success after being deemed too hysterical may have been alluding to the marginalisation of female voices, but the film then failed to give her character any meaningful narrative function. It felt like her only purpose in the second leg of the film was as a facilitator for the inclusion of a sexually-charged Timothée Chalamet subplot. Which, as anyone who has seen Oxfess over the vac will know, is a sure way to attract a viewership.
“The film’s social commentary at times felt smug and lacking in humility.”
On top of this, some of the movie’s editing and cinematography felt unnecessary and excessive. The quick cut sequences and integrated still shots felt like they were trying to do something special, and whilst these sequences did somewhat add to the chaotic feel of the film, I often found them to be ineffective and actually quite cumbersome. Thankfully, these moments were mostly few and far between, so did not significantly hinder the flow of the film.
This most recent addition to Netflix’s impressive list of originals is one certainly worth catching. Despite a highly mixed critical reception, myself and many others have walked away from this film having thoroughly enjoyed it and not fully understanding a lot of the hate it is receiving. McKay has managed to craft an entertaining film which points and laughs at many different aspects of modern life. To see this stood up with such an impressive cast should be of interest to anyone who often finds themselves exasperated at the headlines of today.