Don’t Look Up documents the discovery of a 10 km wide “planet killer” that collides with the earth and is more committed to science fiction than McKay’s earlier set of surprisingly brilliant biopics. However, while Cheney’s rise to power or the 2008 financial crisis seemed very much on McKay’s ropes, Don’t Look Up, for better or worse, demarcates the boundaries of his comedic style and looks like more like a compilation of falls from an SNL cold open than a nuanced exposition of the escalating climate crisis.
If there’s anything to take away from this movie, it’s not that our frenzied, ostracizing, Starbucks-hungry Twitter culture is inherently doomed, but that there are still a few stars and directors left in Hollywood who haven’t. not yet caught up in the juggernaut of franchises, and still trying to produce original fiction for adults. Don’t Look Up is a set that has received so many awards that it’s hard not to get lost in its gorgeous shine. In their first production with streaming giant Netflix, we find Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randal Mindy, a worried and anxious astrologer, and Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky, his assistant and student.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock, this is Lawrence’s first role since the 2018 movie Red Sparrow. While the spotlight is certainly on her co-star, the prodigy actress delivers yet another performance defining his career. Whether she is having a panic attack live on television or snuggling under the stars next to Quentin, Chalamet’s young Turk, Lawrence exudes remarkable range despite McKay’s often sloppy and conspiratorial staging. This is particularly impressive given the weight of star power that the actress has to contend with.
In one scene, in particular, Dibiasky and Dr. Mindy are airlifted to the White House to attend a meeting in the Oval Office with President Orleans (Meryl Streep) and her nepotist son, Chief of Staff Jason (Jonah Hill). While most of the dialogue is supposedly improvised here, Lawrence is ruthless, witty, and his eco-anarchism hilariously contrasts with Streep’s nonchalant performance.
Its moments like this that McKay reminds us that Don’t Look Up is indeed an ensemble piece. Much like the problem he’s satirizing, everyone is there to star in this dramatic comedy, but it’s a far cry from the cleverness and joke of his previous films. Even the tone is blatantly inconsistent. While McKay’s signature sharp style results in some provocative footage of Mother Nature “going on” in the face of adversity, it is nothing compared to Vice’s Macbethian style and more like a TV show. -reality than an apocalyptic drama.
Part of my criticism of Don’t Look Up comes from the real-life disaster it seems to want to sensationalize. As the United Nations climate ambassador, DiCaprio has claimed in several interviews that the film’s narrative is an analogy to the current climate crisis. From the rise of MAGA-hat asteroid deniers to the offshoring of social security to clumsy billionaire technophilanthropists, the parallels to current societal contexts and issues are worryingly strange.
Still, as a spectator, it’s impossible to know where and when the joke is supposed to fall. Everything in this movie is trivialized, ridiculed, organized to the point of utter absurdity, and while I was happy to see Hill return to the screen, his cookie-cutter lines fall somewhere in between a joke of fart and a parody of Donald Trump Junior.
When a movie can’t more overtly try to convey that we’re probably all doomed, then we shouldn’t be cheering for it. In a world of COVID-19, constant political scandals, and disinformation, it is clear that McKay’s agenda here is not one of science or fact but rather the castration of the neoliberal ideologies that have disseminated American democracy…
However, satires tend to become part of the problem they deal with, and while Don’t Look Up is sure to bring in a few laughs to lighten up your Christmas time, McKay’s Allegory is an utterly ridiculous dud. It is just a shame that the same cannot be said about the asteroid it depicts.