Josh Reviews Don’t Look Up
Don’t Look Up was written and directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys, The Big Short). Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his astronomy student, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), discover that a ten-mile-wide asteroid is heading directly towards Earth; an extinction-level event. However, to their shock and eventual dismay, their attempts to warn the people of the world about the imminent destruction of the planet seem to fall upon deaf ears. The politicians, such as President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her son/Chief-of-Staff (Jonah Hill) seem to only be concerned about their own power and influence. The same could be said for the media, such as the co-hosts of the super-popular The Daily Rip show (Cate Blanchett & Tyler Perry), who want to make sure to keep all the “news” on their show light and fun. The average American seems more swept up in the relationship ups-and-downs of internet sensations Riley (Ariana Grande) and DJ Chello (Scott Mescudi). Will no one look up to see the asteroid on its way to destroy the entire planet? Will no one take the action needed to save their own lives, not to mention everyone else’s?
The closing credits of 2010’s The Other Guys was a prelude to filmmaker Adam McKay’s shift — at least within his films — from silly comedies to movies with a strong political statement at their core, such as 2015’s The Big Short and 2018’s Vice. This latest film, Don’t Look Up, fits squarely in this phase of Mr. McKay’s work. He retains his incredible comedic instincts — Don’t Look Up is a very, very funny film — but at the same time it’s an even angrier film, at heart, than The Big Short and Vice (which were both, I’d argue, very angry films in which one could see Mr. McKay raging against the injustices and stupidity of the people in power in this country).
Don’t Look Up takes that even further. The film is a blistering attack on the selfishness and stupidity that Mr. McKay seems to see all around him in our culture — both among people in power, and also among the rest of the everyday Americans who allow those people in power to continue to behave in such ways. Is the film’s analogy a little on the nose? Yes! Yes, the film is about an asteroid heading to destroy the Earth and about the people of Earth being too foolish to look up and see their demise literally heading straight for them. So, yes, there’s not too much metaphor here for how we are continuing to allow Climate Change to unfold unabated, and the myriad ways we’re destroying the planet that keeps us alive. I’m reminded of Jerry Seinfeld’s classic line about the stupidity of not just the invention of helmets (which we created rather than stopping the “head-cracking” activities in which we were engaged), but the helmet law (designed to preserve a brain functioning so poorly that’s its not even trying to stop the cracking of the head that it’s in)!
The film feels so spot-on and so prescient that it feels more like a documentary film than a satire/comedy. Perhaps that’s why it’s been rubbing some viewers the wrong way. Certainly I will confess that I didn’t get much joy from watching the film, despite how funny it was. This was because my stomach was churning the entire time, as I realized that this sci-fi, satirical premise felt entirely plausible and realistic based on how the world seems to look most days!! Mr. McKay has perhaps done his job too well. Don’t Look Up makes its point so well that it’s something of a downer.
But don’t let that make you think that I’m not recommending it! This is a powerful piece of work and it’s definitely worth your time.
The cast is absolutely top-shelf. Leonardo DiCaprio is a lot of fun playing against type as a schlumpy bookworm, Dr. Mindy. Jennifer Lawrence — who I’ve been a big fan of all the way back to her mesmerizing role in 2010’s Winter’s Bone — is a delight as doctoral candidate Kate Dibiasky. Kate is the voice of sanity in the film; the voice of dismayed outrage at the state of our culture and the reality of how so many people behave these days. Ms. Lawrence absolutely kills in this role; she’s hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. Meryl Streep is a comedic killer as the President Orlean, who vacillates between being staggeringly self-centered and dangerously evil. Ms. Streep’s character is frequently paired with Jonah Hill’s — Mr. Hill is hilarious and brilliantly anger-provoking work as Orelan’s deluded and ignorant son, who is also her Chief of Staff. (Any resemblances in look to Donald Trump Jr., are, I’m sure, entirely coincidental.) Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry make a delightful duo as the self-absorbed hosts of the popular The Morning Rip show. Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) is hilarious as the soft-spoken, brook-no-disagreement tech giant Peter Isherwell. Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Pacific Rim) steals every scene he’s in as the macho pilot who President Orleans chooses to command the mission to blow up the asteroid. Timothée Chalamet (Lady Bird, Dune) is note-perfect as the young hipster who Jennifer Lawrence’s Kate befriends, as is Melanie Lynskey as the beleaguered wife of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dr. Mindy. Himesh Patel (Avenue 5, Tenet) is very funny as Kate’s boyfriend Phillip, who abandons her in pursuit of online fame. Rob Morgan (Turk on the Marvel Netflix shows!) brings quiet dignity to his role of the beleaguered Planetary Defense Coordination Office. Ariana Grande and Scott Mescudi are perfect as the self-obsessed social media stars on whose romance most Americans would prefer to focus, as opposed to the imminent destruction of the planet.
Many of these amazing actors are only on-screen for a few minutes, but every one of them makes the most of their screen time to create very funny (and very painfully real!) characters and sequences. They bring a lot of entertainment BANG to each and every scene, which is critical for making this movie about mankind’s stupidity in the face of our own self-destruction watchable.
Watching this film, I’d wondered how it was going to end. Was this comedic film really going to end with the death of every character and the destruction of the entire planet? I won’t spoil the ending here; I’ll just say that I was very satisfied. Mr. McKay ended the film the only way he possibly could. The ending was a strong closing argument to the story the film had been telling, and I found it unexpectedly moving. (By the way, definitely watch until the end of the credits! The mid-credits scene is a fantastic final bit of comedy, and there’s a some more fun to be had at the very end of the credits as well.)
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