New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: Don’t Look Up

Don’t Look Up Movies and Shakers December 13, 2021

Adam McKay’s biting, entertaining, satire and wit is on full display in this long, frantic indictment of America’s political tribalism with doubters who won’t look up. McKay has history in holding an unflattering mirror to our faces with The Big Short and Vice  as prime examples. He’s amassed another group of big name talent who go completely over-the-top, sometimes drowning out the message with their over-acting. Perhaps that’s because McKay shows little subtlety in his script.

This movie is the writer/director’s answer to the question: “How long can we deny what’s in front of our faces until we all perish?” In this instance, instead of climate change, it’s a comet the size of Mt. Everest hurtling toward impact and Earth’s Armageddon.

Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) is an astronomer in an observatory at Michigan State University who looks up one day to see the comet on track, heading right for Earth. She communicates that to Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and with meetings, calculating the size and speed of the humongous object, they calculate it will hit Earth in 6 months and 7 days. They have to warn the world! 

The rest of the film is their media tour to tell everyone who will listen about what’s coming. But first, with Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe’s greasing the wheels with an intro, they start with President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep). The flamboyant, outrageous, chain-smoking head of the country who laughs it off. She’s hilarious as a President who doesn’t want to deal with it at all because she doesn’t want it to affect her poll numbers. 

The fun aspect of McKay movies is figuring out who the real life people are he’s lampooning in the script. In this case it’s not too hard to see the overtones Streep’s performance as President, but the sharpest knives come out against her Chief of Staff. Of course he’s her snide, fast-talking, dim-witted son, Jason Orlean, played with relish by Jonah Hill.

The major theme of the story centers on the fact that politicians will look at their poll numbers before deciding if it’s worth solving a problem, denying it before doing anything to save the entire planet! And when scientists show absolute proof of what’s coming, they look away so they won’t have to deal with the problem, whether they believe it or not. Even the media coverage pokes fun at the prospect of total destruction. 

A prime example of this is McKay’s interpretation of a popular cable-news morning show hosted by two exasperatingly upbeat, seemingly air-heads, Brie (Cate Blanchett) and Jack (Tyler Perry). Their interviews of the scientists are a joke that accurately reflects what we actually see on what passes for morning news shows. Blanchett does well as a smarmy, sexy, talking head who literally flirts, on the air, with shy, reserved, unsexy, married, Dr. Mindy. This is a different role for The Wolf Of Wall Street. And Tyler Perry plays officious trying to stick to the morning show script when his co-anchor gets too hot. 

Jennifer Lawrence is a riot at the steadfast, driver of this approaching catastrophe having to tell anyone who’ll listen to impending doom. She’s honest and crass, so matter-of-fact, rolling her eyes often and just plain mad that no one will believe them. 

Ariana Grande shows up as a glamorous, preening pop-star who sings a long joke of a song (she wrote for the film) about the problems of celebrity-hood and the comet headed for impact. Her lyrics include “You’re gonna die!” The self-deprecating platitudes are fun coming from talented pop-star Grande, but the bit went on a little too long.

There’s always someone who comes up with a way to make money off disaster and Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) more than fills the bill. His characterization as some grinning, soft-spoken, billionaire advisor. He’s the worst version of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg rolled into one. Then there’s Benedict Drank (Ron Perlman at his finest) as a former astronaut who tries to lift off once again to be a hero. 

Timothée Chalamet (Dune – The French Dispatch) makes yet another appearance in a film this year, but in a much lighter role. He gets to pal around with Kate Dibiasky as she’s trying to convince the world about the doomsday comet. He tries to get close, but she’s too obsessed with oblivion to really care.  Grande is a better actress than we expected, doing the song and scenes dramatically, with a poker face. 

Adam McKay throws in references to a number of current situations related to science, climate change and politics to reinforce this notion that we live in a world where up is down and down is up and nobody knows the truth anymore. One thing for sure, this may not be McKay at his best, but this film is a fast-moving, funny, thought-provoking piece of satire. One character gets to find out what the truth really is. But you’ll have to stay till the very, very end of the credits to find out. 

Netflix 2 Hours 25 Minutes          R

In select theaters now. On Netflix December 24th. 

The post Don’t Look Up first appeared on Movies and Shakers.

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