While conducting research, astronomy student Kate Dibiasky [Lawrence] discovers an as yet unidentified comet. Her professor, Dr Randall Mindy [DiCaprio] cuts the celebrations short when he calculates the trajectory means it will impact with Earth in just over six months. This is escalated to NASA and Dr Teddy Oglethorpe [Morgan] at the Planetary Defence Coordination Office, who in turn take this directly to President Orlean [Streep]. Unfortunately, instead of the calm steady leadership they were hoping for, the scientists are confronted by a room of skepticism and opportunism. Soon the story is leaked and like all major threats to mankind, the world is divided.
Without a doubt, Don’t Look Up establishes a wonderful satirical portrait of contemporary life; our obsessions, preoccupations and technological trappings are all laid bare. More than that, it keenly addresses the cynicism of politics and capitalism in the face of a global extinction event and how the actions of a selfish few would damn us all. Naturally, this should be the perfect film for our pandemic-ridden, climate change threatened era, a cautionary tale in the same vein as Dr Strangelove. And who better to write and direct such a project than Adam McKay? The man knows comedy, he knows satire and he has the political insight to make this story really hit home with everyone. So how was such a magnificent concept so meagrely executed?
When the script works, it flies. The jokes are undeniably funny and the situations are hilariously frustrating but somehow the overall result feels a little flat. There’s a clear momentum but the story continually loses steam. In truth, it’s a perfectly serviceable film but with the severity of the message and the calibre of talent involved, anything other than solid gold was always going to be a letdown. In a way it reminded me of mediocre reactionary comedies Space Force (also by Netflix) and Avenue 5 – both helmed by individuals at the top of their game but never living up to their potential. As elevator pitches, all three projects sound like sure-fire winners but, much like Don’t Look Up’s ill-fated leads, they never succeed in getting their narrative out effectively despite every opportunity.
In terms of performances, you have some of the most gilded stars and absolutely every one of them knows the assignment, turns up and does their best but the script spirals and never really hits the peaks it could and/or should. Similarly, the score work by the amazing Nicholas Britell offers a few genuinely tender and inspiring themes but to tie in with the on-screen back and forth, it never gets a chance to really stretch its legs and mostly takes a backseat.
It’s entirely possible that this film simply needed a little refining and a later release. As an urgent message that the climate crisis is going to wipe us all out, sure, sooner would be better. But while still in the throes of a global pandemic (albeit one that is hopefully winding down), maybe the problem is that the story simply cuts too close to home. One thing McKay’s film does well is to highlight a very credible avenue of how humans would respond to such an event. And while the tone is thankfully consistent (something that would have gotten wildly out of hand with a lesser director), it will feel too obvious to some while dismissed as progressive hyper-escalation to others.
Or maybe I’m overthinking it myself. Perhaps this is and always was going to turn out this way. I feel it’s entirely possible to have a copy and paste template for so many Netflix original movies. Not a complete dismissal of their entire work, you understand, just the observation that so many of their films are perfectly acceptable features that just so happen to have attracted the biggest names, both behind and in front of the camera. They aren’t offensively bad but they aren’t creating a roster of people’s favourite movies. And it’s remarkably unfortunate.
Throughout the movie, I couldn’t help but be reminded of 2011’s Melancholia – I’d say it’s an incredibly divisive movie but it’s from Lars von Trier, so that’s a given. Dealing with similar themes but executed on a different level and with incredibly different audiences in mind, I feel, between them both, there is a nihilistic commonality that links them. A pending sense of dread among disparate artists that those in charge are helplessly useless and our trivialities really do amount to nothing in the end. Yet there is an acceptance, an understanding that the connections we form in the moments we havs are what truly matter. But rather than a sense of quiet resolve, they should be leaving their audience angry. This matters. And as such, the final punch should be the one that stays with you long after you finish the movie. Don’t Look Up almost gets this right but the endeavour is a lamentable near miss.
24 December 2021
The Scene To Look Out For:
Every now and then, we are offered silent, terrifying intermissions in space as the comet approaches. The visual effects are glorious and the serenity of space isn’t disturbed by this hurtling object any more than we would be if it passed us by. And slamming back down to the noise and hysteria of our planet was a marvellous juxtaposition. The only problem being, this was only used two or three times and abandoned for the bulk of the runtime – which is a shame.
As I said before, the performances are very fun and there are plenty of chests to pin medals to, but Mark Rylance just takes it. Rylance plays entrepreneurial business magnate Peter Isherwell. He is everything the public has come to expect from a self-made Silicon Valley tech billionaire: arrogant, insecure, egotistical and eccentric. Rylance has played a very similar role in Ready Player One but with this significantly more cutting take, he is able to create something truly amusing.. and surprisingly depressing.
“Unless you assholes are taking me to the bat cave, fuck you for putting this hood on me”
In A Few Words:
“A wholly perceptive farce that regrettably fails to launch”
Total Score: 2/5