Don’t Look Up – movie review

Writer-director Adam McKay’s new film, Don’t Look Up, spoofs the materialistic, pop-culture world we live in. Earth is about to be destroyed by a comet, but do people care? Apparently not and the lack of interest is led by no less than the US president.

PhD student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers the comet. At first she’s very excited by her find, her enthusiasm shared by her colleagues and their professor Dr Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio). That is until calculations indicate it will almost certainly collide with the Earth in six and a half months. Dr Mindy calls NASA and certainly gets the agency’s attention. Soon, he and Dibiasky are off to the White House to meet with the US President (Meryl Streep). But the reception they receive is hardly what they were expecting. Dr Mindy was nervous enough ahead of the meeting and Dibiasky can’t believe the disrespect the President and chief of staff (Jonah Hill) are show towards them and their find.

But Dr Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, urges them to take matters into their own hands. So they appear on a popular morning TV program. Again, they’re given short shrift. Once their calculations are verified however, the President suddenly takes much more of an interest. It soon becomes clear there’s more here than meets the eye. Tech billionaire Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), is in the President’s pocket. He sees an opportunity in the plummeting comet, and he’s not about to pass up.

Meanwhile, the Dr Mindy’s head is turned by the morning show co-host Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett), even though he is married with a couple of sons who greatly admire him. Dibiasky’s hostile manner alongside Dr Mindy has turned the public against her (as revealed in obnoxious social media posts), resulting in a shift in her personal circumstances too. Meanwhile, the comet continues to hurtle towards Earth and the clock is ticking.

For me, it took quite some time for Don’t Look Up to lift off. I found the start slow and laboured. In fact, the movie as a whole dragged. It felt long. Still, McKay (Vice) and co-writer David Sirota deliver some sharp one-liners and clever creative scenes. Tongues are firmly planted in cheeks to drive home the satirical tone.

Notwithstanding another solid performance from Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood), I didn’t buy his character’s transition from timid to confident. Same goes for Jennifer Lawrence (Red Sparrow) – her acting chops are fine, but her character didn’t ring true for me. Perhaps the characters are meant to be hyper-real. Meryl Streep as the President and Jonah Hill as her Chief of Staff make an immediate unfavourable impression, as they’re meant to. Successful business leader Peter Isherwell is cast as a cowering wimp, while Cate Blanchett’s character is simply a narcissist.

As social commentary, Don’t Look Up hits and hits hard. It takes cynicism to a new, uncomfortable level. I just wasn’t as engaged as I wanted to be. Notwithstanding the inflated caricatures, I found the storyline relatively thin.  If you see this film, stay through the entire credits sequence because things happen even when you think the movie is over. The first of those scenes is actually quite clever. So while Don’t Look Up has some merit, I was far from totally sold.

Alex First

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