REVIEW: Don’t Look Up [2021]

Rating: 3 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 145 minutes
    Release Date: December 10th, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Netflix
    Director(s): Adam McKay
    Writer(s): Adam McKay / Adam McKay & David Sirota (story)

But it’s all math.

I think Adam McKay is broken. I’m not even a fan of his films with Will Ferrell (save Step Brothers and the first twenty minutes of The Other Guys), but his success on The Big Short (his best film in my opinion) has begun a new chapter of his career that’s careened towards smug self-satisfaction. McKay is in desperate need of an outside source to let him know that what he’s making isn’t satire. I get that the last two years dealing with COVID in the United States has been exasperating. I get that it’s been tragic enough to become funny. But you can’t just decide to write a thinly veiled account of what happened as if we aren’t still currently living it and pretend you aren’t lazy.

That’s the best adjective for Don’t Look Up: lazy. Nothing on-screen possesses a modicum of insight since it’s all just reality. Our world has become the satire. Meryl Streep‘s caricature of Donald Trump is just Donald Trump. Mark Rylance‘s caricature of Elon Musk/Jeff Bezos (complete with penis rocket ships) is just them too. It’s as though he heard the critiques of his last film Vice and decided that it would have been funnier and better received if he had changed all the names. He therefore tries to get ahead on this one by changing the crisis’ name too. Rather than a pandemic-level virus that continues to mutate because of political and partisan ineptitude, McKay goes Armageddon with an extinction-level comet heading straight for Earth. Flashbacks to 2020 ensue.

The straight men arrive in the form of Dr. Randall Mindy and Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky (Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence‘s performances almost make watching this film a necessity). Think of them as Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci respectively. They have the data to back-up everything they’re saying despite Trump’s White House (in this case, Streep’s Janie Orlean complete with Jonah Hill as Jason, her sycophantic product of nepotism son/Chief of Staff) undercutting its severity and their expertise every step of the way. Mindy, like Birx, deludes himself into believing that being in the room is better than not regardless of his presence proving inert when it comes to important decisions. And Dibiasky, like Fauci, ultimately speaks loud enough in opposition to be sidelined. Cue the media frenzy.

We’ve got opportunists like Himesh Patel‘s Phillip leveraging his journalistic integrity and relationship with Dibiasky into tabloid-level paydays. We’ve got on-the-take talk show personalities too involved in their own vapid lives to deal with anything that’s remotely dramatic and/or perilous without spinning it with an unearned smile to maintain viewership and corporate sponsors in Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett) and Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry). We even have Michael Chiklis‘ Dan Bongino-type on “Patriot TV” talking about how the biggest story of mankind’s last day on Earth is actually topless something-or-other (I had already checked out by that point). Is the press’ job to calm the public? Does the public deserve the truth even if they freak out? Does anyone even care that midterm elections are quickly approaching?!

And what of the little people? Would you believe me if I said the title is McKay’s apocalypse porn’s equivalent to Make America Great Again? Of course you would because everything in this film hits like a sledgehammer to the temple. Orlean and her party want you to not look because they both know the comet is coming and that their voters are dumb enough to act against their best interests by believing it’s not because they told them it was so far from the truth that they shouldn’t even give the opposition the benefit of looking just to make sure. They wear red hats, fire guns at the comet (Hurricane Irma, anyone?), and wield bigoted epithets while others absolve them by saying they’re “from a different era.”

Mindy, Dibiasky, and the head of a governmental department McKay desperately wants us to know exists (he breaks the fourth wall to supply proof despite never breaking it again) in Rob Morgan‘s Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe conversely demand everyone look. The math is irrefutable (after being double-checked by Ivy Leaguers because we can’t trust anyone dumber or poorer than them) and thus preparations must be taken to stop it. Maybe if this majority of the country speaks loud enough, Orlean and her cronies will be forced to do something. Right? Right?! If you didn’t also have the “both sides” group siphoning off good guys from that majority (I won’t spoil the cameo) to admit their cowardice, it might have worked—just kidding. “For the people” died in the 80s.

So, relive 2020 in all its idiotic glory through a fictional lens so thin that McKay might as well have used the real names again. Does the absurdity of its Keystone Cops circus prove objectively funny on paper? Yes. If it was absurd. But it’s not. It’s just our collective trauma thrown back into our faces again as though people aren’t still dying because of what happened. Must be great that McKay, co-writer David Sirota, and an A-list cast recruiting Ariana Grande and Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi to mock the reality-TV gossip fodder their industry has devolved into can find the humor in a catastrophe they’re now hoping survivors who’ve just learned a new COVID variant is already here will watch. If Omicron is real! (It is.)

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. They also believe they’re the “cool elites” because they vote and support establishment Democrats like Joe Biden without understanding that doing so ensures they’re always closer to being Republicans than actually working to help those in need of health care and living wages. They’re asking us to ignore their hypocrisy and laugh at the imbecilic buffoons instead. It’s the same bait and switch from the opposite direction. And it’s not saving any lives. It’s dangerously dismissing the problem as farce.

[1] DON’T LOOK UP (L to R). Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky, Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy, and Timothée Chalamet as Yule. Cr. Niko Tavernise / Netflix © 2021

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