December 13, 2021

Review: The Apocalypse is Here in “Don’t Look Up”

The world of film is changing. Not only is Adam McKay’s satire significantly better than it was ten years ago, but a film like Don’t Look Up has legitimate Oscar chances when it may have gone ignored earlier this decade.

“I am as MAD AS HELL!”

There’s no way it could’ve been made at any other time, though. Don’t Look Up is such a product of its time that I’m fascinated to see how it ages, and whether it will always be tied to the pandemic and to the year 2021.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as astronomer Dr. Randall Mindy, alongside Jennifer Lawrence as grad student Kate Dibiasky. They discover a comet that they determine is on a direct collision course with plant Earth, and so they make it their mission to spread the word in hopes of preventing the extinction of the human race. Naturally, they’re mostly met with scorn and doubt, and the chaotic and lazy media response means that their words essentially go unheeded.

A pretty heavy-handed metaphor, but it’s effective. On their initial tour, Randall and Kate meet with the ignorant President Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her Chief of Staff/son Jason (Jonah Hill), and their case is brushed aside as pure speculation and eventually slander. The commentary is obvious — sometimes painfully so — but I think writer/director McKay’s comedic style works best when dealing with the overt rather than the covert. The writing is competent and well-interpreted, and I’m glad that no intelligence is lost from script to screen.

I think most of that credit (aside from McKay’s talent) goes to the incredible cast. DiCaprio and Lawrence are surefire stars at this point (and I hope they receive the accolades they deserve for their performances in Don’t Look Up), but Rob Morgan, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Himesh Patel, Ron Perlman, Jonah Hill and, of course, Meryl Streep are all at the top of their game. Some are type-cast, but most aren’t; I never expected I could hate Meryl Streep and I never thought Mark Rylance would blow me away yet again, but here we are. I think Don’t Look Up would have worked without the all-star cast, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

It’s not just a climate change and COVID-19 allegory. I appreciate that Don’t Look Up took the time to deal with the impending weight and inevitability of death, and how that affects everybody from person to person. It definitely has time across its 138-minute runtime, and while I don’t relish pondering my own mortality, I found it somehow comforting that Don’t Look Up didn’t choose to ignore that aspect when it so easily could have.

Just like Vice, Don’t Look Up pokes fun at both sides of the political agenda, but is very clearly skewed in the liberal direction. From President Orlean’s clearly parodical rallies to overly positive talk shows, little to no subtext is lost. Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi appear in a sequence that directly parodies the need to stage blockbuster events supposedly raising awareness about an impending threat instead of actually doing more helpful for the cause. It’s an improvement on Vice’s annoyingly political tongue-in-cheek nature — in Don’t Look Up, there’s more than enough mockery to go around.

I think my enjoyment of (and consistent laughter from) Don’t Look Up came from a love of Adam McKay’s unique style. The meaning doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination, but I never expected it to; having a great time here has nothing to do with reading into the subtleties (there are none), it’s all about smiling and laughing about the ridiculousness playing out before your eyes — and maybe being a little pissed off that this is the world we actually live in. [Grade: A]

Director/Writer: Adam McKay

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Meryl Streep, Mark Rylance

Rated: R for language throughout, some sexual content, graphic nudity and drug content

Available: Netflix
Fun Fact: Adam McKay wrote the parts of Randall and Kate specifically for DiCaprio and Lawrence.

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