Buckle up, buttercups: This review is gonna get real real, real fast.
Shedding optimism like a useless second skin, I don’t recognize myself much these days. Until the past few years, until a preventable rising death toll and collapsing democracy, friends and family would have described me as almost obnoxiously hopeful. FYI: I put “almost” in that last sentence to protect my own feelings.
Yeah, that’s just not me anymore…
Oh, BTW: You’re not lost. This is, in fact, a movie review for Don’t Look Up, the new satire from writer/director Adam McKay. We’ll get there, I promise.
Let’s set aside the intensely personal small stuff, as if this uber-super cringy intro isn’t already full of that. It’s a big thing that broke me. It’s being confronted, daily, with a fact that pulls at my heart like a pocket-sized black hole: There are more bad people than good people, and the bad people are winning. I know, it’s a tale as old as time. But it still felt like new news to me.
Explain it away all you want to. Blame it on media manipulation or inferior education or machinations of the wealthy. Hell, pin it on the very real fact that we live atop a Native American burial ground. It won’t change what we see on C-Span, in stagnated vaccination rates, in Kyle Rittenhouse’s neatly polished AR-15. There are more bad people than good people. The bad people are winning. Always has been.
This is the rot at the root of Don’t Look Up, a dramedy that dreams itself to be Network but feels more like an on-the-nose twitter observation retweeted into virality. For more than two hours, the film is little more than a reminder of what everyone who ever once truly gave a shit already knows. It rolls around in my ugly, black hole fact without actually saying anything about it, other than reiterating that resistance is futile. Just Give Up is a title far more apropos of its thesis.
McKay’s metaphorical MacGuffin here is a comet discovered by pot-smoking PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and her professor/mentor/hunky-science-nerd-with-a-panic-disorder, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio). With scientific certainty that rounds to 100%, that cosmic body is gonna ‘splode the whole earth in 6 months.
The two immediately tell the President (Meryl Streep), only to be mocked by her Chief-of-Staff son (Jonah Hill) and told the official White House plan is to “sit and wait.” With the help of Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), who runs the disturbingly real Planetary Defense Coordination Office, Diabiasky and Mindy launch a press blitz to get the word out. Of course, the impending, inevitable destruction of all humanity gets politicized by opportunists and leveraged for financial gain by a tech guru (Mark Rylance).
The only surprising thing that happens in the whole film is a passable performance from Timothée Chalamet. Which, you know, hats off to McKay, as I thought that was mathematically impossible. The problem is that Don’t Look Up won’t say more. It’s an Iannucci film in need of dentures, Don Quixote from the point of view of the windmill. The cleverness isn’t slight of hands but a middle finger. It’s all “that peroxide-blonde news anchor you think is vapid can speak multiple languages” and “that burnout, loser kid has more legitimate faith than any preacher.” It’s the lyrics to Alanis Morissette’s Ironic with more DiCaprio screaming.
I liked it.
That’s a lie. I didn’t like it.
I related to it. I related to the primal scream at the core of this insatiably mediocre, bungled parody. I see myself in its sunrising nihilism, feel the echoes of a despair its maker doesn’t know how to hold. It doesn’t make for a good movie, but I get it.
Walking out of the theater ─ yes, I did go see this Netflix original film in a theater, because I respect Alanis’s intentions ─ felt the same as having read literally any comments section, having any one-sided conversation with family, having a look at polling numbers.
There are more bad people than good people. The bad people are winning. Always has been. It’ll never change.
Grade = C-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Carla Hay at Culture Mix says “Dark comedies are supposed to offer acerbic wit in poking fun at society’s problems, but Don’t Look Up is only concerned with stringing together a bunch of scenes where people say and do tacky and annoying things.”
Kate Sánchez at But Why Tho? says “Don’t Look Up is a kick in the teeth. It leaves you devoid of hope and shows the capitalistic and social obsessed world we live in, and that’s it. There is no greater meaning than ‘we suck.’”
Jared Mobarak at his site says “The real joke is that McKay and company can have Hill’s character mock the GOP’s agenda of exploiting their working-class voters to prop up the one-percent’s “cool elites” without looking in the mirror and seeing that making this film is them (liberal Hollywood) smirkingly doing the same thing.”