Gemma Creagh isn’t afraid to stare straight into the sun with Sci-Fi satire Don’t Look Up.
With a stellar cast and a razor-sharp premise, Don’t Look Up is a timely offering that cuts considerably close to the bone. Written, produced, and directed by Adam McKay (Vice, Anchorman), this darkly comedic film is ‘based on real events that haven’t happened yet’…
Socially anxious Michigan state professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) along with outspoken PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discover a terrifyingly large comet that’s on a collision course to Earth. With only six months until projected impact, the pair of astronomers enlist the help of Dr. Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) in an attempt to warn the masses. Unfortunately, their initial meeting with US President Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her rather questionable advisor/son Jason (Jonah Hill), doesn’t quite go to plan. A scandal with a Supreme Court Justice appointee takes precedence over the entire destruction of mankind.
Realising that their literally earth-shattering news is falling on deaf ears, Mindy and Dibiasky leak information about the comet to the media. They start with a reputable print organisation that’s definitely not the New York Times, before then moving on to popular morning TV show, The Daily Rip, hosted by Brie (Cate Blanchett) and Jack (Tyler Perry). However, their message once again gets lost, as Dibiasky’s very justified emotional outburst relegates her to meme status, while Mindy’s relative silence and amiability is mistaken for ability – a classic gender bias. Mindy becomes a public figure of sorts, and his newfound celebrity distracts him from both his family duties and from saving the world. All the while, the timer keeps ticking down to total devastation, getting closer and closer to zero.
There’s a lot to unpack in this two hour and twenty five minute long feature, and perhaps it’s this lack of clarity where some of the structural issues play out. The world of Don’t Look Up is a massive one, the cutaways, in-jokes and subplots, although for the most part genuinely hilarious, just take up too much space. Our two protagonists’ arcs often fall to the wayside for chunks of time. Meanwhile, important elements in selling the reality of the premise are either not mentioned, or given a line of throwaway dialogue by way of explanation, for instance, the entire fate of the planet is left solely in the hands of an incompetent American president – really? No one else does anything?
At its peak, Don’t Look Up uses the same deadpan humour and visual language as arguably McKay’s best directorial project to date, The Big Short. It even has some fabulous moments featuring the well-observed complexities of the worst aspects of human nature – not unlike Succession, on which McKay is a producer. However, many of the characterisations drift in and out of a much sillier space, even veering into Anchorman territory. This makes them tiring to follow for this extended length of time, despite a bill of this caliber, of cross-generational cultural icons, changemakers and heavyweight actors such as DiCaprio, Lawrence, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Ron Perlman, Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi, Cate Blanchett, and of course the one and only Meryl Streep.
This is by no means implying that Don’t Look Down isn’t a thoroughly enjoyable film, rather, that it doesn’t reach quite the same heights as McKay’s past array of work. Plus, there’s a near extinct elephant in the room throughout: while the jokes are sharp, dry and frequent, the reality of the metaphor – the devastation that climate change will cause to all life on earth – is just too real and looming to fully relax and enjoy the spectacle.