Don’t Look Up (2021) Review!!

Synopsis – Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.

My Take – While there is no doubt that writer-director Adam McKay is responsible for some of the greatest comedies of the 21st century like the Anchorman films, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Step Brothers and The Other Guys, he rightfully earned major critical and commercial acclaim for his comical 2015 autopsy of the 2007-2008 financial crisis in the form of The Big Short. A success which he (almost) repeated in the black comedy biographical take on the former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Vice (2018).

Hence, when his next star studded affair was teased at the beginning of last year it quickly became one of the most exciting things about Netflix’s 2021 film slate. Seeming exactly like something right up his alley, the film uses a disaster-film framework as a metaphor for a reality-based crisis, with a huge comet hurtling toward Earth as a surrogate for indifference to addressing climate change.

However, what I didn’t expect to see was something so disappointing. Something that is more concerned with pushing its climate change message rather than providing it along with the entertainment factor. More importantly, here, writer-director McKay seems to have it in for everybody in equal measure, hammering home digs at the mainstream media, celebrity culture, tech billionaires, Trump-inspired politics, and science deniers with such unrelenting regularity that it’s hard to keep up. But the worst sin the film commits is that it’s hardly funny.

While there are flashes of humorous material, but so much of the film is simply about writer-director McKay lambasting everyone, especially everyday citizens whom he credits with very little intelligence. Despite a dream cast and a seemingly can’t-miss premise, the film is a failure on so many levels and, although the viewing numbers may satisfy Netflix, it’s a shock to see such a high-profile film self-implode with ambition.

The story follows Michigan State PhD student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), two astronomers, who discover a comet hurtling towards Earth, certain to cause an extinction level event in roughly six months’ time. Though with the help of Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) from NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, they manage take the information to the White House, only to be met with apathy from the donor-reliant President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her chief of staff son Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill).

Perplexed by their reaction, the two disillusioned scientists instead hit the daytime TV circuit to an unexpected reaction, especially from the morning news show called The Daily Rip on which its vacuous hosts, Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett) and Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry), would rather talk about the love life of pop singer Riley B. (Ariana Grande) and her boyfriend, DJ Chello (Scott Mescudi).

Labelled as doomsayers, the two end up being ridiculed by those unwilling or unable to accept the scientific truth. Meanwhile, tech mogul Sir Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), a tech billionaire and one of Orlean’s top donors, comes up with a dubious scheme that, if successful, it will allow him to monetize the comet.

Yes, the film is absolutely right about the world in which we live, but that doesn’t make it a success. Mainly as writer-director McKay’s goal is too ambitious. In a single production, he wants to satirize the current state of American politics while taking a few jabs at the media and the public’s obsession with star culture. And he goes after a climate in which someone as unprepared and unqualified as Trump can be elected President.

Most importantly he stresses on the fact that people are too stupid to come together even when their survival depends on it. Every scene, every drab joke that is just another in an endless list of social media related jabs, is all too on the nose. As a satire, it is clear what writer-director McKay is trying to achieve: by substituting one apocalypse for another, we need to learn from our fictitious counterparts and wake up before it is too late.

For example, Kate and Randall’s frustrations grow exponentially as they are laughed at, ignored, and mocked for trying to get both populace and politicians to heed their calls. Obviously, no one listens and if by chance someone accidentally has the common sense to trust science, then money will quickly persuade them otherwise.

But the satire here not only lacks subtlety, it pushes the bounds of ridiculousness to levels where it works neither as a comedy nor as social commentary. It is as if writer-director McKay has made two films and couldn’t decide which to finish, instead cutting the two in half and sticking both ends together. Mashed together, the contrasting styles reject each other spectacularly, incoherently switching from dramatic to slapstick every other shot.

Thankfully, the stellar cast manages to keep you engaged. Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio are clearly invested, Timothée Chalamet is a rare bright spot, Cate Blanchett is deliciously over-the-top and Meryl Streep revels in her pompous president role. In other roles, Mark Rylance, Jonah Hill, Rob Morgan, Tyler Perry, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Himesh Patel, Michael Chiklis, Melanie Lynskey, Tomer Sisley, Scott Mescudi, Ishaan Khatter, Sarah Silverman and Chris Evans are also good. On the whole, ‘Don’t Look Up’ is a disappointing satire that wastes its star-studded cast in over ambition.

Directed – 

Starring – Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill

Rated – R

Run Time – 138 minutes

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