'Don't Look Up' Is as Heavy-Handed as Modern America

Directed by Adam McKay

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Melanie Lynskey, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep

BY Rachel HoPublished Dec 20, 2021

The world is dying and humans are too stupid, selfish and/or opportunistic to care — that's the takeaway message Adam McKay wishes to impart in his fourth film of the post-Will Ferrell era. Like his previous films, McKay rounds up an incredible cast of A-listers to deliver said message, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence leading the ensemble as two astronomers who have just discovered a comet that will destroy Earth in a little over six months.

PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence) and her supervisor, Dr Randall Mindy (DiCaprio), immediately jump on the horn and inform NASA of the impending collision. The news finds its way to an at-first flippant President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), a Trumpian head of state who eventually uses the comet to distract from the latest sex scandal plaguing her Supreme Court nomination.

Meanwhile, talking heads like Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett) and Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry) report on the world-ending news through blindingly white smiles and misplaced optimism, while social media and clickbait websites are more concerned with engagement and online traffic. As the clock runs down, the general public is divided into camps of believers of science and those who refuse to look up and acknowledge the problems right above them.

But never fear: American ingenuity and innovation will save the world. That is, until tech guru Peter Isherwell (a brilliant Mark Rylance) aborts the operation mid-mission when his team identifies precious materials in the comet that carries with it international dominance and promises of wealth in the trillions.

Part disaster movie, part political satire, Don't Look Up is Armageddon meets Veep without capturing the greatness of either. The disaster elements are rudimentary, with some pretty terrible CGI and little to no suspense. But that can be forgiven, as the comet is merely a vehicle for the satire.

The problem is, the satire fails to be clever at every turn. Rather, it's as heavy-handed and on-the-nose as an attack ad from the opposition. Subtlety and interpretation are non-existent, perhaps in keeping with McKay's premise that human stupidity will be the death of our planet. Whatever the reason, Don't Look Up becomes a "spot the reference" movie instead of a well-rounded, interesting piece of commentary.

However, McKay does succeed in a number of ways. As in The Big Short and Vice, he manages his wildly talented ensemble well. Most characters are given their due and cast well, with the exception being a terribly underused and wasted Timothée Chalamet. And there are some genuine laughs in the film — a running gag about snacks at the White House and an ill-timed fireworks display are laugh-out-loud moments.

But even DiCaprio's delightful turn as the nervous nerd can't detract from McKay's sanctimonious effort. In trying to incorporate every political event and reference, Don't Look Up threatens to become a bloated, frantic movie that isn't as good as the sum of its parts.

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