Film Review: “Don’t Look Up”

Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” aims to be a cheeky satire that points a finger at capitalist greed in the era of false news, but flat jokes and an overwhelming cast severely undermines the film’s mojo.

“Don’t Look Up” is a Netflix movie that sets out to bottle the chaos and confusion that we are all living through right now: the result is a discordant and confused film that does a very good job at capturing the unique blend of exhaustion and anger that we’ve been lugging around for the last few years. World-ending events have just been coming and going, and we’ve become desensitized. It’s physically impossible for us to become more worried — we have to turn off the anxiety and enjoy our lives somehow. These themes are echoed in the premise of the film; “Don’t Look Up” stars Leonardo DiCaprio as astronomy professor Randall Mindy and Jennifer Lawrence as PhD student Kate Dibiasky who discover that a giant comet is headed directly towards Earth. When the two set out to share their findings with the general public, havoc is unleashed.

The movie rests on the shoulders of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, but Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Ariana Grande, Timothee Chalamet, and Cate Blanchett are just some of the other names that make an appearance. Beyond the core cast though, everyone else’s appearance feels forced, and it really doesn’t feel like the characters are coming together or even adding anything to the story. The roller coaster of emotions also makes it really difficult to connect with any of the characters; they all seem to veer from one extreme to another. Jennifer Lawrence’s character in particular swings between apathy and anger with alarming frequency. She handles an impending apocalypse with grace, but slips into a depressive episode when her boyfriend breaks up with her. To be clear, there is nothing particularly wrong with this; the movie just doesn’t take the time to fully explore the character’s development, leaving the audience with a sense of whiplash and an incomplete picture of who Kate Dibiasky is. Each character is going through their own experiences, but in attempting to capture all of their stories, the movie is unable to create a compelling narrative and ends up bouncing wildly. The result is a sort of cacophony rather than the harmony we’ve come to expect; the story flares up, then mellows down suddenly; the highs and lows come and go, never quite letting you settle in. The movie’s editing also feels discordant and frantic, switching from languid, lingering shots to rough, panicked scenes.

The themes of “Don’t Look Up” echo those of “Wall-E” or “2012,” with additional  attempts to bring a dash of comedy and satire to the mix. The issue is that the film is just … not funny. There is a bit of situational irony here and there, and the bizarreness might shock a laugh out of you, but most of the jokes don’t land. For example, there is a scene where Meryl Streep addresses the country in the face of an apocalypse, but spends most of her speech leaning into nationalistic ideology and exits into a shower of fireworks. While it is insane, it pales in comparison to the reality that we are living through, making for very ineffective satire. Juxtaposing celebrity relationship news with doomsday news just isn’t that funny in 2021 because we’ve lived through it. The political commentary is blatantly on the nose and the film starts to drag very quickly, especially with a runtime of 2 hours and 20 minutes. Despite its lofty goals, or perhaps due to them, “Don’t Look Up” ends up feeling frenzied and chaotic and fails to bring anything new to the table.

Grade: C
Directed by: Adam McKay
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence
Release Date: Dec. 24, 2021
Rated: R

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14 thoughts on “Film Review: “Don’t Look Up”

  1. If we don’t get our act together, mankind will receive some harsh wake-up calls. The film has the potential to be a classic. This film is chock-full of social and political realities that, in the end, reveal the flimsy nature of our digitally distorted existence. Everywhere I go, I find genuine people to be rational and optimistic, yet our humanity is somehow portrayed by our media soothsayers.

  2. I was excited about the plot of this movie, which aimed in part to expose the lunacy behind our denial of climate change and how we are on a pathway to destruction if we don’t do something about it. However, this movie was a chaotic mess. It jumped haphazardly from scene to scene, with strange, abrupt camera angles in-scene, making it hard to follow. There was no natural flow to this movie–it was just chaos from beginning to end. There were opportunities for the movie to slow down at a pivotal moment to make a sobering point, but any time the movie came close to making a lasting impression, it just fizzled out.

  3. I was on the edge of my seat for much of the movie, even though I am a veteran fan of the SF genre. I loved the small touches of humor, such as the “guru” sniffing the president’s hair while she was making a speech, as President Biden was cruelly criticized. The film reminded me of “Slaughterhouse 5” in many ways, such as the juxtaposition of milieu.

  4. A friend of mine said that this was a preachy propaganda film by a lefty socialist director.
    I had a very different take. I wouldn’t watch it as a propaganda film because of the number of themes in the movie that were contradictory to any single message. So contradictory in fact that the movie came off as a “deep slice” into our contemporary state of human culture and the debilitating extremes therein—to the extent that we are just fucking up on a planetary and even galactic scale—dismissing reality for the sake of contrivances.

    Thematic references: *The President answering to a globalist and the tech giants. *The “Influencer-singer” Ariana Grande, having more importance and significance than the reality based astronomers. *The “prevailing attitude” that what matters in life is entirely “click” based and quantified as a poll number. *We are “teching our way out of humanity”. *Our awareness and distaste for superficiality has been culturally effaced. *The masses are always going to be lied to and propagandized by the bureaucracy, the media, and private interests in what inevitably constitutes a cultural war of insanity based projections. *Humanism and personage are now technically quantifiable. * In the end, the only thing that matters is life, family and friends and spirituality. There were many more subtle themes in the movie—which is what it was all about; a scooping of themes like grains of sand on a beach that cobble together for a picture. It didn’t necessarily evince for a single political or ideological point of view, but instead it elucidated the current state of affairs that for better or worse (mostly worse) are governing the course of humanity today. No one side of political or cultural ideology was elevated or spared in the movie. It was as if somebody took an unvarnished and deep passing glance at how humans go about their affairs. In direct contrast to your point that this was a socialists portrayal, in the end the movie highlighted the complete failure of government—corrupt to its core—and finally rested on family and friends and God as the only “go to” worth having in the end.

  5. Thanks for the review although I really do disagree. This movie was great, entertaining, funny and brilliantly done.

    I don’t think anything was missed by not diving into the characters because it’s not about any single character or their story. Character development wasn’t important or needed for the overall message of the film to come across. It’s about what the collection country/world in going through, experiencing and how they’re coping and reacting to it all in such different ways. Some are choosing to ignore and be capitalistic; worrying about making profit, getting good rating and focusing on providing entertainment or escaping to Social media instead of taking action and doing what’s needed for our collective survival. That’s the narrative.

    The harmony you come to expect in movies doesn’t exist in the real world. Especially in 2022. There is nothing about their situation and that way of life that is settling.

    The movie’s editing I believe was done purposely to feel discordant and frantic. The best way to do that is to show short snippets and deep emotionally different clips from a multitude of people in the story. The director does this even more obviously towards the end when they show you how different people all over the world are spending their last days.

    Yes there are “rules” when it comes to film making and writing scripts but artist often brake rules in order to achieve a specific or a big emotion from the consumer. If they want to get that emotion from an audience that they believe won’t get the message, the bigger, louder and more obvious they have to break those rules.

    The satire in this film had my partner and I laughing through out. We caught all the jokes and they seemed to land pretty well. Many of the jokes are designed to only hit with a certain audience though. If you watch this and don’t catch them, then they went over your head and the jokes on you.

    That last scene at the dinner table was so beautiful and moving. And the last words from Leonardo DiCaprio hit hard and was made to make you think and reflect.

  6. Very good review, very good critiques of the review. After watching Don’t look Up, I tried to nail a genre and I came up with black comedy, satire, and a dash of sci-fi (22,500 years later and the brontoroc). I never relaxed during it and felt disturbed after it. Appropriate emotions I think….yeah!

  7. Did this guy think he was going to be watching Anchorman? Mckay graduated a while ago, you should understand what satire is and how it works. You aren’t supposed to be falling out of your seat laughing, cause it actually isn’t funny.

    It is absolutely terrifying. Be scared. That is completely all right. Emotions are good. They don’t make you a baby or unable to cope, they actually guide you. Listen to them.

    I didnt watch this and think this applies to climate change tho, i watched and thought I’m so happy Trump is no longer in office cause I dont think he would have even mounted any resources to stop it. Not a one. Because he loves making fun of emotion and people who care. He makes fun of them and then rhymes like a 3rd grader making sure thier name sounds stupid. And the “Don’t look up” moto would most definitely be his war cry. Fake news fake news fake news. Funny how he was the one calling himself out constantly. We had very respected news organizations, and not so respected, but there were some but not anymore. He called everything fake and that way nothing can be disputed cause no one takes anything real.

    It’s actually a smoke screen for him, not a pointer towards others.

    Sadly the downfall of America might be due to the lack of trust he sewed cause unless we can turn this flaming bag of dog snot into an edible flower cake somehow we are doomed.

    I am hoping for the best, but most people are so happy to blame others and hate and use anger and fear and jealousy as the weapon they intend to use to get what they want, and it’s a stance they were coerced into feeling….and the truth is that all those negative emotions damage the receptacle they are held in and never the party they are intended for. So now half of america are running around blaming others for all their pain and all they’ve done is light a fire in their own chests that’s destined to burn longer and hurt more than anyone else could ever hurt them cause they wont find out how to be happy for way too long. And then, it gets passed on because hurt people hurt people.

    You should rewatch this movie and not think of it as a comedy. Maybe you’ll get it.

    Great responses guys. So bright, at least someone still is.

    Love yourself, find your peace, respect yourself and everyone in your circle and build great accomplishments around you by only bringing everyone up with you, not pushing anyone down. This is not easy to do, but it is worth it.

  8. The fact that are already voicing our opinions on social media only reinforces the story line.
    Because ultimately, who cares what your opinion is. I will make my own judgment watching this movie with the remote control on/off button.
    Loved the movie!

  9. I think the movie is a satire for how society is dealing with the climate change crisis. I love how all the characters portrayed. This is a great movie.

  10. I think this movie will be a classic. Comedians and writers know how to deliver a message. Up there with Wall-E, Groundhog Day, and Wag The Dog. I found the characterizations picked up on the various absurd character traits of current important leaders and influencers.

  11. This movie is laden with social and political truths that in the end show the superficial nature of our digitally skewed existence.
    I usually find real people to be sensible and positive every where that I travel but somehow our humanity is misrepresented by our media soothsayers.
    We had better get a grip or humanity will have some very nasty wake-up calls.
    The movie could be a classic.

  12. Satire can only be funny at one side. The director captured my attention throughout the movie and the actors skillfully portrayed their characters allowing you to connect with each of them.

  13. Thank you for submitting this review, though I respectfully disagree. The whole point of the film is to explore various emotions and experience what the world would be like if a meteor was bound to hit. The movie does not let us settle in for atleast one moment because if we knew about our impending doom, we would not be settled — would we?

    The directors carefully, and smartly, allowed us an insight into an alternate reality where there is a cosmic threat to our universe; something the general public might suffer from, but the rich might attempt to benefit off of.

    It feels frenzied and chaotic because.. well.. the end of the world IS frenzied and chaotic. It’s not supposed to be some super funny, sit back, relax and feel good movie – it’s supposed to be a snippet of the chaos that would rain upon us all if such a threat faced society.

    I do like the way you structured this review, though, and I completely understand your points.

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