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Review: Don’t Look Up (2021)

Don’t Look Up (2021)

Directed by: Adam McKay

Premise: Two astronomers (Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) discover a giant comet is on a collision course with Earth. They try to warn humanity of the danger but find government and media do not take the threat seriously.

What Works: Don’t Look Up has a handful of impressive performances. The picture is led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as the astronomers trying to warn the public. They realize the stakes and the weight of that knowledge is evident throughout DiCaprio and Lawrence’s performances. DiCaprio typically plays characters who are cool or violently angry but in Don’t Look Up DiCaprio is neither and he sells this man’s awkwardness and frustration. Lawrence’s character gradually comes to accept Earth’s fate and there is a beauty in the character’s trajectory from panic to serenity. Mark Rylance is cast as a big tech guru who inserts himself into the government’s response. Rylance has a maddingly aloof delivery that is comical but also malicious. Don’t Look Up is a satire with the comet a stand-in for climate change and when the film is in full satirical mode it frequently works; the skewering of the news media is on point and viciously funny.  

What Doesn’t: As humorous and occasionally astute as Don’t Look Up can be, the filmmakers struggle maintaining their pitch. The tone is all over the place. The film is at times like Dr. Strangelove or Wag the Dog but in other sections it recalls The Day After Tomorrow. Comedy is often harsh and satire is the harshest. It holds characters at a distance to ridicule them while drama requires empathy. Don’t Look Up tries to have it both ways and that undercuts its integrity and coherence. As a polemic, the movie keeps hitting the same handful of points over and over again. If the filmmakers intend to raise the viewer’s consciousness or convince them to take climate change seriously, Don’t Look Up is unlikely to do either. There are quite a few story details that don’t make sense. After Jennifer Lawrence’s character first appears on television, she is told that she became a meme but also that her appearance got no social media traction. Cate Blanchett plays a vapid news anchor who has an affair with DiCaprio’s character; for inexplicable reasons she’s in the White House Operations Center at a critical moment. The picture also suffers from pacing problems. It’s clumsily edited especially the beginning and the ending and some scenes are redundant. It’s also not particularly cinematic. Don’t Look Up is visually flat and often looks like an episode of a television sitcom.

Bottom Line: Don’t Look Up is an uneven film. It’s got some funny and incisive moments but it suffers from an inconsistent tone and illogical details. And as an argument, Don’t Look Up is unlikely to reach anyone who didn’t already care about the climate crisis.

Episode: #885 (January 2, 2022)