Following a comedic directorial run of Anchorman, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys, arguably the greatest comedy run by a director this century, director Adam McKay shifted his focus to more dramatic, political fare that has garnered him tons of awards and nominations. With 2015’s The Big Short, McKay went after big banks and the 2008 recession in a film that garnered five Academy Award nominations, including a win for McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph for Best Adapted Screenplay. In 2018’s Vice, McKay went after the Bush administration, particularly Bush’s Vice President Dick Cheney. The film got eight Academy Award nominations, including a win in Make-Up and Hairstyling, and earned McKay his second Best Director nomination.
Don’t Look Up is McKay’s latest dramatic effort and this time, he tackles the Trump administration and the incompetence of his four years in office by him and his administration. Though he is going after something different, Don’t Look Up hits all the marks of McKay’s more dramatic movies: it features an all-star cast, features moments of humor, and is made with passion from McKay, yet is wildly edited, overlong, and full of chaos, making for an overall messy film-going experience.
Don’t Look Up looks at two astronomers from Michigan St., Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) who discover that a comet is headed straight towards Earth and that the impact would kill the entire planet. After they inform the President (Meryl Streep), who shrugs off the comet and doesn’t make a big deal of it, Mindy and Dibiasky go on a media tour to inform the world about the comet heading towards Earth, though it is met with divisive opinions, with some thinking the comet is fake, some who are terrified by it, and some who want to use it for financial and political gain.
Watching Adam McKay’s dramatic movies is like reading a paper written three hours before it was due by a college student hopped up on nothing by Red Bull and no sleep. Watching Don’t Look Up is messy, unorganized, and exhausting. McKay had a lot on his mind, and he put all of it on the screen. McKay’s main target in Don’t Look Up is Donald Trump and the Trump administration and how they would handle the possibility of global extinction. McKay unleashes a hell fury of frustration and anger towards everyone and anyone who was part of that administration or supported them, particularly how they handled the COVID-19 pandemic. McKay aims at the politicians and their incompetence, the media and how they understand and handle a crisis, the tech billionaires like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and how they would utilize a global extinction for financial gain, and cynical people who don’t take science seriously and would rather come up with their own conclusions rather than listen to people who have studied stuff like this for decades (sound familiar?). McKay jams all his frustrations into the movie, along with moral tales about loving the people who are important to us and political divide throughout the country, and does this by using rapid, chaotic editing, thin character development, and giving us a bloated run time.
Don’t Look Up also doesn’t hit the same emotional and satirical weight as something like Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 masterpiece Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, one of the greatest political satires of all time in its critique of the Cold War during the heart of the Cold War. Had Don’t Look Up been released during the actual Trump administration it would have made for a funnier, scarier, and more relevant film to what was taking place in the world. But seeing as Trump and his entire administration is out of office now, Don’t Look Up feels like it showed up to the party too late, and instead of being a satire on the current political climate in America, feels more like a reminder of everything we went through during those four years, something I’m not sure many of us want to relive again at this time.
Though exhausting to watch, Don’t Look Up is also an incredibly frustrating and stressful watch, which felt like the point of the entire film. You get frustrated when people think the comet isn’t real and annoyed when the politicians and billionaires can stop the comet yet choose not to for other reasons. And like all great disaster movies, the idea of a comet heading towards Earth will stress anyone out. The performances by DiCaprio and Lawrence are excellent and the stacked supporting cast is a who’s who of great acting, with standouts coming from Mark Rylance as the Jeff Bezos/Elon Musk-like psychotic billionaire, Cate Blanchette as a Fox New-equivalent anchor who does nothing but smile no matter how bad the news might be, and Timothée Chalamet who is hilarious as a skateboarding hipster who falls in love with Dibiansky.
Don’t Look Up is messy, angry, stressful, exhausting, and all over the place, which is how I imagine Earth would be if it were the end of the world. Despite good performances from the incredible cast, McKay, once again, needed to channel the passion he had for this subject matter and organize it into a more coherent film.
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