|for the low-key performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as they try to overcome social media and political stagnation to save the world from impending doom
|Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Ariana Grande, Cate Blanchett, Himesh Patel, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Melanie Lynskey, Michael Chiklis, Paul Guilfoyle, Rob Morgan, Ron Perlman, Scott Mescudi, Timothée Chalamet, Tomer Sisley, Tyler Perry
|10th December 2021, now available on Netflix
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
While studying for her astronomy PhD, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), discovers a huge comet. Her mentor Dr Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) does some calculations and discovers that it’s heading straight for Earth and will crash into the Pacific in a little over six months. A comet that big will wipe out the planet. 100%. Well, 99.78%, but that’s good enough for him. He calls NASA and NASA calls the White House.
Populist President Orlean (Meryl Streep) is more worried about the upcoming mid-terms, given the number of other potential extinction events crackpots warn her about. Until the polls start turning against her; then she concludes that saving the world could be a poll-winner.
But a billionaire tech overlord, Sir Peter Isherwell (Sir Mark Rylance) has the ear of the President and advises her that it would be a waste to deflect such a resource-rich rock back out into space and it would be better to try to bring it down to Earth.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Writer-director Adam McKay started out with crazy comedies, such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights and The Other Guys, before moving onto more serious material, including The Big Short and Vice; here he tries to blend the genres, using crazy comedy to tell a serious story.
The comet speeding towards Earth is a not-so thinly-veiled allegory for climate change; in this film, both political leaders and the public prioritise other pressing issues – such as making money or the sexual shenanigans of pop stars. The main difference being that climate change will take a little more than six months to destroy the planet.
Parallels to reality are pushed to their limits, as the Trump-like President Orlean employs nepotism to the extent that her son Jason (Jonah Hill) is her chief of staff, and cronyism to the extent that her Supreme Court nominee is her own lover, who doesn’t even have a law degree – while the world’s biggest pop star (played by Ariana Grande) allows her love-life to play out on daytime TV, while the TV hosts (Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry) like to ensure that even bad news is given a positive spin.
Up until this point, Don’t Look Up has potential. But the more it tries to say – the more it tries to satirise – the more messy it gets until every message becomes so diluted as to lose its power.
Although Streep’s President is set up as the antagonist, it’s Sir Mark Rylance’s liberal’s view of a softly-spoken, creepy blend of Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk who’s set up as the true villain – thinking only of technical innovation and human evolution, with little thought for the short-term.
At the head of the A-list cast is Leonardo DiCaprio – one of the world’s leading climate campaigners – playing, as does Jennifer Lawrence, the geeky frump – although the world has different views of them; he’s the world’s sexiest scientist – she’s a shouty doom-monger. McKay even has something to say about sexism.
While it’s usually helpful to give protagonists an emotional core, efforts to fill out Randall and Kate’s personal lives just get in the way of an already busy stew. There’s enough to say about global catastrophe, social media, political corruption and nepotism, without having to keep pushing in other directions – it’s almost as if McKay is worried this might be his last film.
It’s almost like rather than aiming for the most important targets, he fired indiscriminately, in the hope that he might at least hit something; someone of his stature should have more self confidence and more self control.
The timing feels a little off for this film too; the government he’s parodying is now long gone and in reality, it looks like the battle to persuade the public of the dangers of climate change do seem to be far more advanced than they appear in this film.
There’s a thin line to be drawn between satirising society to frighten the public or the authorities into action – and just trying to get a cheap laugh – occasionally the line is broad enough for both, but entertaining and enlightening as it is at times, with Don’t Look Up, McKay is trying to be too ambitious, throwing as many ingredients as he can into the pot, without worrying too much about how they taste when mixed together.
Unlike the comet hurtling towards Adam McKay’s planet Earth, his film is more of a near miss, than a direct hit.