Written by: Adam McKay
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance
Art serves many purposes as it can truly be anything the artist wants to create in order to display a message or a particular emotion. It can be a vessel of feelings, which Adam McKay distinctly does with Don’t Look Up. A feature working as a satirization of real-world action and inaction in the face of facts, but where this film finds its struggle comes from its lack of focus, which leaves for far too much bloat, thus making it more of a grating experience than it needs to be.
Michigan State University doctoral candidate in astronomy Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers there’s a comet heading towards Earth, which after confirmation, shows if it makes an impact it could drive humanity to extinction. As she and Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) try to get the message out, it becomes muddled by parties not interested because of either apathy or disbelief.
While working as a doomsday movie about the end of the world through a comet, Don’t Look Up very obviously operates as a thinly-veiled allegory for the collective global response to climate change. An allegory where all of the reputable scientists agree that if nothing gets done then life on Earth will get more difficult to the point of being inhospitable. The feature takes it a step further by adding the element of near certainty the entire population will die if nothing gets properly done. This undeniably becomes such a frustrating experience for the scientists in this feature because they believe once individuals learn about the seriousness of this threat, there will be a collective effort to try and mitigate it, but seemingly every other character either goes with the two reactions listed out before. Blood gets boiled, as what McKay tries to do here deserves admiration, however the error falls in the execution and this level of smugness he utilizes to approach telling this story.
McKay’s work has always landed well with me as a major fan of his broader comedies with Will Ferrell, but also the first of his more overtly political dramedies in The Big Short. With that particular feature, he breaks down financial concepts the average American does not try to comprehend to display the horrendous way in which the banking and mortgage lending industry led the United States into a terrible recession. In a sense, it felt educational even if some were not fans of how he delivered the information. While I can defend McKay’s antics in the 2015 film, this feature does not enlighten, nor does it seek to tell anything nearly illuminating, it just serves as a moment for McKay to release his anger on the world for not taking climate change seriously. He has a right to do so, but the bile he lets out comes with no precision, which just lets this anger spread thinly in so many pockets that it damages the viewing experience as a whole.
The targets of this feature include the media, politicians, tech billionaires, conspiracy theorists, and the everyday American. This is where the smugness comes in as if he’s the only one yelling this from the rooftops, which begs the question of who’s the intended audience for this film? Is it the people who already believe in the same things he does or does he attempt to get this in front of the eyeballs of the climate change skeptics? It becomes unclear, which only further demonstrates the lack of focus this film has and never truly achieves. For example, there are the moments where Randall and Kate go on a television program called “The Rip,” which tries to satirize the media response to this horrifying news by putting these two scientists as the last topic of the day and mostly joking through the horrendous news that needs to be shared. Exactly what aspect of the media gets satirized here? It gives off the intention of it being a morning political show when the scene gives vibes of “Good Morning America.” A concept and execution that does not meet in the scene where each time they go on it feels disjointed.
Despite the major issues this film contains, McKay still knows how to construct jokes and make them land well. This works with the characters we follow in Randall and Kate. We learn about their intricacies as individuals, which makes their reaction to other clueless people funny. However, this runs very thin when it gets to the enormous supporting cast of characters who all mostly whiff in their attempts at attempting to inject humor. The worst in the show undoubtedly proves to be Jonah Hill, whose character got excruciatingly unwatchable the second he uttered a line. It came with the most obvious jokes that landed like a complete thud each and every single time. Something difficult to achieve considering McKay assembles quite the cast of characters here who appear in different segments. Perhaps because of the overtly obvious satire these characters represent and how it never amounts to anything remotely fresh. It comes across as a waste.
Through this film being a Netflix feature, the film was paused for a biological break where it felt like the narrative was coming towards a natural conclusion only to my horror to see that there were still another 40 minutes in the film. It pretty much summarizes the frustrations held for Don’t Look Up, a feature with the best of intentions but it just eventually turns into an opportunity for McKay to yell at people who already agree with him but does not offer any actionable change. In the end, it just works as empty with a good amount of jokes. Perhaps this lower score comes from the expectations I personally hold for this man but this one proved to be quite the whiff.