Despite the political relevancy, Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up is unsubtle, unfunny, and overly reliant on being right to make any impact. It’s the cinematic equivalent of someone screaming at you from five feet away with a bullhorn.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Kate Dibiasky, an astronomy Ph.D. candidate who discovers an unknown comet. The discovery is aided by her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), who discovers the comet will impact Earth in six months and is large enough to destroy the planet. Along with NASA ally Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), the three head to the White House to inform President Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep).
The administration of the President and her Chief of Staff/son Jason (Jonah Hill) brush off the trio, so they take to the press to give out the info. A pair of bubbly talk show hosts (Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry) doesn’t do much to help, but political maneuvering eventually gets Orlean to take the threat seriously. As the comet gets closer, plans are put in place and amended for capitalistic gains. Will the Earth be saved and what impact will it have on the world as well as the lives of Kate and Randall in the meantime?
McKay is ostensibly attempting satire, without any of the subtlety or metaphor. Every politician is worried solely about power and money, while every businessman is exactly the same. The truth about the corruption of politicians and businessmen is not any revelation. Instead, McKay continually reinforces this again and again and again with the loudest possible language. There is no subtext. Everything is black and white.
In the world of Don’t Look Up, there are people who are right and people who are wrong. The ones who are right are scientists, activists, and decent people. The ones who are wrong are politicians, businessmen, and the sheep that follow them. Additionally, a tech company billionaire Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) represents the broadest possible capitalistic evil that has a complete influence on the political system. Again, nothing about this is anything but in the broadest possible terms.
It’s all supposed to be a metaphor for how the world and the United States don’t care about the potential death of our planet and only care about money and power. In that way, it is effective, but it goes about it in the smuggest, self-satisfying way that the message becomes patronizing. There comes a point where being correct is not enough. You can’t scream it in the face of people who are willing to listen. That is this film for 138 minutes. Any good that the film attempts to mine is almost immediately overwhelmed by the patronizing tone.
Lawrence does the best job of the main cast. Despite being saddled with a terribly cut wig, her actions are the ones that are the truest to a real human. DiCaprio doesn’t do a bad job, but the filmmakers are too distracted by him being Leonardo DiCaprio to make him into a well-rounded character. Morgan keeps a steady calm the entire time, nailing the tone I was hoping the rest of the film would match. Timothee Chalamet shows up 90 minutes in and steals every scene. His laid-back characterization and surprising spirituality are a nice counter with Lawrence.
On the other side, Streep and Hill are such broad comic performances that they feel like bad improv comedy. Hill plays a stupid stoner who just happens to work in the White House. Streep shows very little of her immense talent. Her character does very little when on screen, but her actions are talked about significantly more. Rylance’s Isherwell is all over the place. His character is difficult to describe, other than to classify him as grating.
With Don’t Look Up, the filmmakers focused so much on being loud with the message and assembling an all-star cast that they forgot to make the rest of the film. Loud, abrasive, and only occasionally funny, this film serves as a huge disappointment to end the 2021 film year.