IT’S BEEN DEEMED one of Netflix’s most watched productions, and has been followed by a slew of vehement critical opinions, both for and against, but does this mean it’s a good film? Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up is an engaging satire about the imminent end of the world as we know it. It’s a satirical essay about the cavalier mentality of contemporary people ensconced in themselves and the racing currents of social media as it is a cynical jab at the powers that be, in America. Above all, it’s as easy to watch as a two-bit comic.
But do you come away with any great truths? This anti-hero tale brings a fast-moving, earth-bound comet – conventionally recognised as a ‘planet destroyer’ the size of Mount Kilimanjaro – to the attention of two Michigan academics in the astronomy world – Dr Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his doctoral candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence). The tale reaches over a trajectory of six months. Rob Morgan with a terrible hairdo plays Dr Teddy Oglethorpe, a scientist on the side of those in the know. And with Meryl Streep as the flippant President Jane Orlean, the boss of the United States of America, for whom smoking in her proverbial closet is up there in publicity priorities, it’s a potentially terrifying tale where self-consumed idiots are in charge and the people who know the facts are exploited, insulted and disbelieved. Particularly, in the name of hashtags, likes, shares and what-have-yous that point to popularity stakes in the ether.
Sounds familiar? We in this Covid-riddled world of ours, still have mindless anti-vaxxers who deem themselves more knowledgeable about science and medical awareness than people trained in the field. We’re rotten with shallow memes about situations that we don’t bother to learn more about. We don’t read. We’re doomed in our own foolishness, possibly to a catastrophic end, too.
While there are quite beautiful moments and philosophical nubs about life, the universe and everything coming to closure in this film, and the different ways in which people and animals will make sense of this type of calamitous end, the work is intellectually not well made. The characters – particularly those in American leadership – lack credibility and are crudely crafted to fit the humour, which oft slips into the corny and repetitive. There is no nuance between the good guys and the bad guys. And while the piece gives a finger to woke thinking, it’s a film which caters to the lowest common denominator of audience.
A third of the way into it, you may begin yawning: The premises have been established, the froth of silliness and disbelief across the media platforms has been evoked, and all you’re really waiting for is the world to end. Toss in some sex, mayhem and general violence, and the film hits all the expected buttons. Enter elderly right wing characters like the pilot Benedict Drask played hilariously by veteran performer Ron Perlman, and the work garners more edge that teeters on the brink of political incorrectness. It’s delightful, but pushed a little too obviously, unfortunately.
On so many levels, this film evokes Sidney Lumet’s 1976 film Network, which offers a brilliant gloss on the power of the media, but it also brings to mind the premise central to both Franz Kafka’s 1915 novel The Trial and Joseph Heller’s 1979 novel Good as Gold. In the latter, a cultural world just beyond the reach of the main character ensnares him by his ‘short and curlies’: his libido, his pride and his ego. With so many big names on paper in Don’t Look Up’s cast, easily the best performance is yielded from relatively unknown Melanie Lynskey who plays June, the hapless wife of Dr Mindy. She’s the only character that is actually real and the humour she brings is rich and golden.
Don’t switch off when the credits start to role, however. There’s a lovely vignette 22,740 years later, when comeuppance is due to the rich, elderly lot who surreptitiously did look up (in contradiction to what they told their followers to do), saw the comet and skedaddled. It’s a moment in the film which lends delicious credibility to it all, and effectively gives this work levity evocative of the Garden of Earthly Delights. And then some.
- Don’t Look Up is directed by Adam McKay and features a cast headed by JP Aaron, Jack Alberts, Beau Allen, Daniela August, Ashleigh Banfield, Wendy Bellevue, Cate Blanchett, Caroline Bergwall, John Bucy, Allyn Burrows, Sergei Bushmanov, Amanda Cass, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Chiklis, Kid Cudi, David J Curtis, Claire Davis, Sujoy De, Bianca de la Garza, Shimali De Silva, Patricia Dehaney, Christopher Deschenes, Leonardo DiCaprio, Aimee Doherty, Richard Donell, Barbara Douglass, Dorothy Dwyer, Chris Everett, Brian Faherty, Lonnie Farmer, Steve Gagliastro, Omar Ghonim, Rebecca Gibel, Jon Glaser, Patrick Gover, Ariana Grande, Brahms Guignard, Paul Guilfoyle, Andrew Haserlat, Coran Saprodakis Henley, Jonah Hill, June Holmes, Graham Holmes, Alex Huynh, Caitlin Ishibashi, Michael Jibrin, Wes Johnson, Robert Joy, Alvin Keith, Ishaan Khattar, Jonathan Kobs, Joy Lang, Tori Davis Lawlor, Jennifer Lawrence, Meghan Leathers, Rob Lévesque, Juri Love, Georgia Lyman, Melanie Lynskey, Meara Mahoney-Gross, Rena Maliszewski, Paul Marini, Anthony Marrese, Jayne McLendon, Annette Miller, Roman Mitichvan, Bill Mootos, Rob Morgan, Dee Nelson, Sarah Nolen, Lance Norris, Jody O’Neil, Celeste Oliva, Elder Isaiah Perez, Jade Onwuakor, Erik Parillo, Hettiene Park, Ross Partridge, Himesh Patel, Ed Peed, Therese Plaehn, Ron Perlman, Conrad Perry, Tyler Perry, Alaina Pinto, Robert Radochia, Adila Rajeh, Ahmad Rajeh, Kareem Rajeh, Khaldoun Rajeh, Khaled Rajeh, Sheren Rajeh, Natalie Rebenkoff, Nate Richman, Frank Ridley, Staci Roberts-Steele, Matt Rouillard, Mark Rylance, Jacob Sanditen, Homa Sarabi-Daunais, Live Schreiber, Nicholai Senat, Lizzie Short, Ben Sidell, Rafael Silva, Sarah Silberman, Tomer Sisley, Jeffrey Smith, Richard Snee, Odis Spencer, Patrick Michael Strange, Ralph M. Studley, Meryl Streep, Conor Sweeney, Gary Tanguay, Stephen Thorne, Ting, Patti Tippo, JT Turner, Danielle Waxman, Alison Weller, Kevin Craig West, Lewis D Wheeler, Anania Williams, Lance A Williams, Darryl Wooten, Mikhail Yarovoy, Samsara Leela Yett, Sam Zephir and Alexandra Zilch. It is written by Adam McKay and David Sirota. Produced by Adam McKay and Kevin J Messick, it features creative input by Nicholas Britell (music), Linus Sandgren (cinematography), Hank Corwin (editing), Francine Maisler (casting), Clayton Hartley (production design) and Susan Matheson (costume design). Release date on Netflix: 5 December 2021.