What if scientists knew the world was ending and humanity did nothing to prevent
it? Donít Look Up turns that frightening premise into a toothless satire,
following a collection of characters who are faced with the imminent impact of a
comet that will destroy all life on Earth ó but rather than the typical disaster
film in which the best and brightest work together to avert calamity, Adam
McKayís dark comedy suggests that weíll continue to be our self-absorbed,
uninformed selves. Clearly a commentary on global warming, which folds neatly
into a treatise on our ongoing Covid-19 crisis, Donít Look Up takes aim at
plenty of ills ó especially the scourge of science-deniers. But a smug,
self-satisfied approach proves insufficient at addressing the legitimate woes at
core of this picture.
The filmís starry cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Timothee
Chalamet, Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep. Those onboard for McKayís The Big
Short and Vice will be intrigued by this angry assault on the dumbing-down of
the population by the media and a myopic ruling class. And liberal audiences may
enjoy a comedy that flatters their worldview while condemning conservative
politicians and anti-intellectualism. But too often, Donít Look Up congratulates
itself ó and the audience ó for feeling superior to the filmís villains.
DiCaprio plays Randall, an astronomer who, along with grad student Kate
(Lawrence), discovers a comet heading directly towards our planet that will
trigger a global extinction event ó and we only have six months to avoid
catastrophe. But on meeting US President Orlean (Streep), theyíre shocked when
she dismisses them as being hysterical, which prompts them to go to the press.
There, too, Randall and Kate are only met with skepticism and suspicion, partly
because these scientists are socially awkward and, therefore, donít come across
well on television.
McKayís screenplay is powered by a grimly funny idea: if it seems ridiculous
that no one believes Randall and Kate, well, why do so many dispute the
existence of the corona virus or climate change? As a parable, Donít Look Up
could be chilling and hilarious, but what dooms the film is McKayís tendency to
go after easy targets rather than really exploring the implications of his
premise. This isn't just low hanging fruit. It's fruit that's rotting on the
The problem starts with his conception of Randall, a nerdy family man who
naively believes that simply by warning people, those in charge will spring into
action. But DiCaprio, an actor who has long made environmentalism one of his
core causes, feels too fussy in the role, failing to tap into the scientistís
timid demeanor or growing frustration that no one will listen to him. Happily
married to his mild-mannered wife June (Melanie Lynskey), he attracts the notice
of Brie (Blanchett), a stereotypically vapid TV host, resulting in a torrid
affair that boosts his self-esteem ó and eventually causes him to compromise his
principles in order to become a famous talking-head. Itís a predictably ironic
character arc, and DiCaprio canít bring much comic spark to the character ó
tellingly, heís most compelling when Randall finally has his Howard Beale-like
meltdown on live TV.
While there is certainly no shortage of problems facing society, Donít Look Up
takes lazy shots at social media, pop stars, cable news and the rich. The
performances veer toward the cartoonish, with most of the people Randall and
Kate encounter being dimwitted in unfunny ways. Mark Rylance plays a caricature
of a messiah-like tech visionary, while Ron Perlman does a dull parody of
gung-ho military generals. The satire would work better if McKay made the media
and government forces more complex so that audiences can understand just how
frightening their complicity is in turning the world into an uglier place. But
since the cast mostly portray their characters as one-dimensional vain fools,
especially Streep and Blanchett, the jokes fall flat.
To be fair, there are some grounded performances, with Lawrence bringing
righteous indignation to Kate. And as the one rational White House scientist,
Rob Morgan is refreshingly low-key, eliciting laughs through his dry delivery.
Perhaps best of all is Chalamet, who plays a stoned skateboarder smitten with
Decades ago, 1976's Network declared that media and corporations were killing
democracy, anaesthetizing us with distractions and mindless entertainment.
McKayís film makes a similar argument, proclaiming that weíre so consumed with
Facebook and slanted political discourse that we donít even heed the warnings of
our impending doom. One can sympathize with that position while still believing
that humanity deserves better than Donít Look Upís glib rebuke. The characters
are saying a lot on both sides, but in the end doesnít the film really offer
more insights than what most viewers already know. Though it may seem that way,
Donít Look Up is not as shrewd nor smart as it obviously think it is. It's a
blunt instrument, when it should have been a sharp razor.