Don’t Look Up (2021) Review – A Great Film that Failed Us All

by Zebediah Oke

From writing and directing the cult-classic Anchorman to penning one of Marvel’s biggest gambles Antman, Adam McKay has been a creative powerhouse behind some of the most influential comedies since the early noughties. Don’t Look Up is his new brainchild, a dark satirical comedy that follows Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), an astronomy graduate student from Michigan State University and her professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) as they make an unbelievable space discovery–a comet big enough to wipe out the entire human race is in the solar system and is on a direct collision course with Earth. And no one seems to care. With only six months until the comet makes impact, the movie asks–what will it take to get the world to just look up? We’ll be exploring the ebbs and flows of Don’t Look Up. (This review will contain spoilers.)

Ebbs

President Orlean

Meryl Streep’s portrayal of the indifferent head of state doesn’t hit the necessary notes that the film needs. She’s not funny enough, not stern enough, not maliciously calculating enough. I could’ve seen her as a more charismatic but emotionally barren charmstress but instead her performance feels lacklustre, leaving me wanting.

Messages

McKay’s contempt for popular culture drags after a while and this dramatised vision of America, although modelled heavily on the reality, is an overindulgence. Behind the celebrity gossip interactions and political point scoring, there is what feels like an unhelpful air of condescension that blows towards the very people who’re probably most in need of hearing the film’s message.

Sketch show?

Frequently, the emotional tone of the movie feels more like a stretched-out sketch-show skit than a poignant dark comedy that is truly reflecting on the moral decline of western society.

Flows

Humour

Despite the consistent assault on popular culture, the film still delivers extremely funny beats through an absurdist lens. The film shows a subsection of America’s influential cast through a specific lens and that lends itself to all sorts of comic relief, where television personalities are narcissistically more concerned with someone’s media training than the news of apocalyptic collapse. In tone, it resembles Armando Iannucci’s work, like a mixture between Veep that follows Vice President Selina Myers (Julie-Ann Dreyfus) as she attempts to navigate a quagmire of red tape to become the first woman president and Avenue 5, a satirical sci-fi dramedy series where Hugh Laurie pretends to be a pilot of a commercial spaceship that gets knocked off course–adding 3 years to the eponymous ship’s return journey to Earth.

Editing

The editing style communicates a high-octane feel despite there being no overt action scenes. The mid-sentence smash-cuts and bursts of non-diegetic images, compliments the absurd and fast pace of the film’s humour. This style might not be for everyone, but I found its choppy nature fun and artistically engaging.

Randall Mindy

Leonardo DiCaprio suffers, maybe, from a script that is juggling so many characters and yet, he plays Randall Mindy perfectly. In a film that, at times, feels like the skin of a sketch show stretched over the skeleton of a feature film, DiCaprio manages to have compelling moments and as much character progression one can have when faced with an apocalyptic incident.

Conclusion

I’m going to be frank with you guys–My guilty pleasure is watching media where white people are blanketly terrible. Seinfeld, Veep and Always Sunny in Philadelphia are some of my all-time favourite TV shows. There’s an added echelon of irony in these shows for me, as a Black person, that I think is lost in the wrapping of these shows as entertainment. These types of media intend to say something and I tend to hear something very different to their intentions.

Don’t Look Up, indeed, intends to say something. Fundamentally a cautionary tale, the film attempts to drill home how the existential state of western culture has become so toxic that, when faced with the imminent destruction of the human race, America would rather march the entire planet towards a rocky death before its leaders de-prioritise political power or capital gain. I’m sure Don’t Look Up is allegorical for climate change but it applies to much, much more, as it parades deluded characters preaching to deluded members of the public, the farcicality of the whole thing being made clear by the consistently horrified face of Jennifer Lawrence’s Kate throughout the film.

Don’t Look Up is absurdly funny, excellently edited, brilliantly cast and, all the same–tired and broken. Maybe, it’s the cultural moment this was released in, where millions have died and continue to die due to the incompetence of western governments and their chokehold on the wider world. Maybe it’s the fact that Hollywood continues to churn out apocalyptic film after dystopian film, as if broaching topics of worldwide collapse so frivolously in mass media is some sort of psychic preparation for our demise. I know what Don’t Look Up intends to say. Like so many other shows and films, it’s trying to say that we are on a dark path. And like so many other shows and films, it offers no hope, no real turning point, and no way to escape this fate. It does little else but highlight the aggressive indifference to life that western culture is responsible for but it offers no effective suggestion for change, nor is it self aware enough to understand that it participates in the same indifference to life that it’s trying to satirise. No. The film simply starts with Chekhov’s comet and it ends with it while our protagonists, who’ve tried the entire movie to course correct, pretend not to hear the impending cataclysmic destruction together at a dinner table. Don’t Look Up is an excellently made film, but all it intends to say is, “we’re fucked so hug your loved ones”. And in a realm of such potential for imagination, simply resigning to that fate makes this a failure of a film to me.

What did you think of Don’t Look Up? Leave a comment below!

Editor’s Picks:

The Matrix Resurrections (2021) – Self-aware, Fun and Refreshingly New

Worst to Best Marvel Studios Releases of 2021

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.