Don’t Look Up (2021). Film review of the satirical disaster drama starring Leonardo Di Caprio

Don't Look Up 2021 film
Standard

Disaster

star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching

Film review by Jason Day of Look Up, the satirical disaster movie about an impending meteor hitting the planet. Starring Leonardo Di Caprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep and directed by Adam McKay.

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Synopsis

As a comet large enough to destroy humanity hurtles toward the Earth, committed astronomers Dr Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) try their best to persuade everyone around them of the seriousness of the situation.

But politics, the personal and the professional conspire against them as people across the USA deny and decry their claims, led by a President (Meryl Streep) who is more interested in mining the comet for valuable minerals than obliterating it.

Review by @Reelreviewer

I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming in terror like his passengers.

British comedian Bob Monkhouse.

When is a movie a spoof and when is it a satire?

Officially, Don’t Look Up is a disaster movie (and as such, takes an approach that certainly injects new life into a fairly stale movie genre), but in reality that label is wrong.

It’s a fine line betwixt those two comedic states, but let’s say a satire has strong and serious political messages to convey, rather than being fun or a bit silly with a purpose to have you rolling in the aisles rather than thinking too much.

By political I don’t necessarily mean a movie/play etc. that is set in Westminster or Washington with MPs or Secretary’s of State, but that it revolves around or focuses on the machinations of people involved in systems, policies and protocols, and those can be found anywhere.

Network (1976) features no politicians (although the characters are just as Machiavellian) and is set in the word of TV programming, but is a movie I much admire despite its main narrative fault, incidentally the same fault Don’t Look Up has.

This hyper self-consciously ‘smart’ disaster movie is, in spite of the silliness of its characters and ridiculousness of its narrative and dialogue, definitely a satire. It also comes from director/writer/producer Adam McKay who has form with the type of movie, having helmed the critically acclaimed credit crunch critique The Big Short (2015).

Don’t Look Up has an incredible array of acting talent for an audience’s delectation, but why are they all so loud and shouty? Are they grandstanding, trying to outdo their co-stars?

Why do the filmmakers need to sledgehammer political/social critiques into your skull, like a cinematic game of whack-a-mole?

It is one of my bugbears with movie satires that they slip into hysterical shout-fests rather than using more subtle, penetrating, artful comedic strokes. I got Network (1976) but still needed a lie-down after its ‘perfectly outrageous’ take on TV programming politics.

I realise Don’t Look Up isn’t trying to be anything other than riotously, raucously obvious – and amidst the ruins of its palace of pretension it scores some decent points about the nature of TV news, pop politics and scientific celebrity but take it down a notch at least for this crotchety reviewer.

As with Network it’s a battle amongst the the screen hogging cast for prominence. I’d say the women have it over the guys, with Streep’s ridiculous, vacillating President (“I can’t think of another President I’d want to see in Playboy” according to her horrid, creepy son Jonah Hill, a political cockroach. Stay tuned for the post-credits epilogue!), Blanchett’s bleach blonde, bleach teethed news anchor and Lawrence’s overly emotional astronomer all providing excellent value.

Of course, it’s also deliberate there are so many obnoxious characters assembled in a movie about an impending cataclysm that will vaporise humanity.

The movie redeems itself during the last 20 minutes. Eschewing the shouting, ‘grandstanding’ of the actors, McKay slows things down somewhat and we take in our characters and the rest of the world as they enjoy peace or panic. We join our heroes as they settle down for a last supper, reconciling with past lovers or just chilling and enjoying good company, wine and food.

If only the rest of the movie had shown just a modicum of such restraint.

Cast & credits

Director: Adam McKay. 2hr 18min/138 min. Hyperobject Industries/Province of British Columbia Production Services Tax Credit/Bluegrass Films. (15).

Producers: Adam McKay, Kevin J. Messick.
Writer: Adam McKay.
Camera: Linus Sandgren.
Music: Nicholas Britell.
Sets: Clayton Hartley.

Leonardo Di Caprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, Himesh Patel.

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