Big, bold, banal, brilliant, but clumsy, Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up is a hurtling warning for an evident future catastrophe that will make COVID look like a gentle breeze. Humanity has and always will take action when it’s too late. In the casting of Mr. Global Warming, Adam McKay picks Leonardo DiCaprio as the calm voice of reason amidst total annihilation. McKay uses the blueprint of 90s disaster films to create a modern comedy set in the tone of reality.
An anomaly is detected on a telescope by Dr. Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence). Initially, it’s a cause of no concern as she reports the findings to her partner Dr. Randall Mindy. When the mathematics are reported to Dr. Clayton ‘Teddy’ Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), a cause for panic is triggered. The comet is 100% guaranteed to hit the earth and destroy the planet. The three scientists inform the President of the United States of their discovery, but she blows it off. Afterward, our heroes beg the media to listen to them but are ignored.
Nobody cared what the three scientists had to say until everyone confirmed their findings as accurate. Everything digresses into an over-the-top power struggle between scientific fact and political gain. The White House knows the comet will kill us all, yet they decide to mine it for gold then leave the planet, humanity be damned for the sake of profit.
The comedy is an established style from a man who’s not afraid to leave his comfort zone and doesn’t care what his critics say about it. From being the Talladega Nights guy to talking about the 2008 financial crisis, Adam McKay has made drastic changes as a filmmaker I find impressive. His style doesn’t always land. I thought the mid-credits sequence in Vice made no sense, and Margot Robbie explaining subprime mortgages in a bubble bath to the audience is condescending. Thankfully that type of fourth-wall-breaking cheap humor isn’t here.
McKay knows he’s making another star show, but the casting aside from Jonah Hill is devilishly clever. When Leonardo DiCaprio’s character comes on a morning television show to warn the show’s hosts about the played by Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett, about impending doom, he’s instead turned into a nerdy thirst icon by social media. DiCaprio’s character is the type of nerdy scientist you’d see in any flick. The joke is that it’s played by a man most men could only dream of looking like.
Jennifer Lawrence gets the point across that Leonardo has difficulty making on the morning show but is in an understandably hysterical state when she addresses the public. Instead of heeding Dr. Dibiaski’s words, she’s transformed into a meme. Jennifer Lawrence hasn’t been in a movie for a long time. Seeing her as a meme similar to the angry cat lady is hilarious. The public perceives that Ms. Lawrence is a bit of a drama queen, so her character has mood swing issues. Despite her vast credentials, Dr. Dibiaski’s mental illness defines who she is in the public eye. The only ones who understand her are her fellow scientists.
Meryl Streep’s President Orlean is an opportunistic airhead that takes advantage of the legendary actor’s free-spirited demeanor. Her character is an opportunist that uses public perception to her advantage without considering the dire consequences of her inaction towards the hurtling comet. Another actor who doesn’t ever seem distressed by impending doom is Mark Rylance as the big tech CEO who’s a cross between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook where Mr. Rylance has Steve’s dress style with Tim’s effeminate leanings. Like the President, he lives in his little bubble of distorted reality.
The two weaker characters in the plot are Cate Blanchett’s morning anchor lady, who becomes Dr. Mindy’s extramarital lover. Cate Blanchett is destroying a marriage for the second movie in a row this week. Even if the projects just happened to land that way, it makes her character take the plot in a predictable direction that’s otherwise wildly unpredictable.
Once more, working with Leo DiCaprio post-Wolf of Wall Street, Jonah Hill plays a derivation of Jared Kushner, whose jokes belong in a Judd Apatow film. Too often, Mr. Hill delivers lines that accentuate his character’s foolishness in a variety of the film’s cringier moments. It’s like he has to pause the movie to deliver a joke, similar to when trailer music stops in its track to deliver a cheap laugh.
What makes Don’t Look Up stand above the other films in the disaster category is its unapologetic brashness. While rooting for the scientists, the film makes you equally root for the comet to wipe out the human race that’s more obsessed with digital likes than compassion. There’s a realism in the film’s style similar to The Big Short or Vice but is over the top enough where we’re being made aware that this is indeed just a film.
After seeing the President tell the public to drink bleach to clear themselves of illness, it’s hard to disbelieve almost anything making the political humor poignant. Adam McKay doesn’t just take shots exclusively at the right. Behind President Orlean’s desk in the oval office is a portrait of The Clintons, rendering nobody safe in Mr. McKay’s newest film. Don’t Look Up might be triggering for many with its political shots fired, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Don’t Look Up will be on Netflix December 10