Don’t Look Up, Netflix’s latest big-budget holiday offering, is a what-if scenario stretched out to two hours and 25 minutes: If a comet were hurtling toward Earth, ready to annihilate everybody and everything, just how would the public and the powers that be respond?
Well, they probably wouldn’t respond the same way the characters in 1998’s summer blockbusters Deep Impact and Armageddon did — with everyone (particularly the U.S. of A.!) banding together and sending a badass, ready-to-die crew of Americans up in space to detonate the damn thing.
According to this movie, we’d have a nightmare on our hands even before the comet showed up. Astronomers Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio, giving us the same amusingly neurotic vibes he provided in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence, looking like an alt Journeys employee and often blowing up with rage like a middle-aged mom demanding a refund) discover the comet. First, they try to inform the president (Meryl Streep) and her staff, but their warning falls on deaf ears. (Although it is kinda messed up that the movie inadvertently posits that, when the apocalypse comes, it’ll be under a woman’s watch.) And when they try to alert the media, a bad appearance on a morning show gets them pilloried on social media, where folks are more concerned about the recent breakup of a couple of pop stars (played by Ariana Grande and Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi).
Don’t Look Up has director Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice) once again doing a satire that’s heavily on-the-nose, presenting a view of contemporary society that’s full of self-centered haves and clueless have-nots. Virtually everyone our protagonists meet in their mission to get the word out are shallow assholes — even Grande’s pop diva calls DiCaprio’s man of science an “old fuck” for awkwardly giving condolences for her breakup — too lazy and selfish to even come to an agreement that the world is coming to an end.
McKay rounded up some real stars to play straight-up douchebags. There’s Jonah Hill as the president’s hilariously vapid chief of staff and son; Mark Rylance, playing a more unhinged version of the same character he played in Ready Player One, is a Zuckerberg/Musk-esque tech tycoon; Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry are the chipper morning-show hosts. The astronomers do have some allies: character actor Rob Morgan (rocking a sad-ass wig) plays a scientist who aids the pair, while everyone’s crush Timothée Chalamet (also be-wigged) shows up halfway through as an evangelical street punk who romances Dibiasky.
McKay dumps his usual bag of tricks (fourth-wall breaks, hyper-surreal moments) in order to present a black comedy that’s deadly serious even when it’s being relentlessly absurd. There are scenes in which the camera woozily lingers on DiCaprio and Lawrence’s faces, capturing the hazy panic they’re experiencing while everyone else is blissfully ignorant. But considering that a lot of us have been living in a pandemic-fueled farce these past couple of years, the targets McKay and co-writer/journalist David Sirota go after seem like low-hanging fruit. Do we really need a two-and-a-half-hour movie about how everyone — from politicians to journalists to the public at large — will do the wrong thing when an impending catastrophe looms? Hell, we’re still living through that scenario. This film will most likely depress some and infuriate others. While McKay has said that this is a movie for everyone, I hardly think anyone from the MAGA nation will sit down and watch a Bernie stan shit on them for a couple hours.
McKay obviously wants his film to be in the company of such satires as Dr. Strangelove, Network and Wag the Dog, and anyone who’s seen those movies will notice how much McKay bites from them here — DiCaprio even has his own Howard Beale-style meltdown in front of TV cameras. But even as he’s not-so-subtly presenting the argument that maybe mankind should be extinct, McKay is still too much of a storytelling softie to go quite that dark and cynical. DiCaprio and Lawrence’s astronomers constantly fight the good fight, trying to save a world that’s unfortunately filled to the brim with dicks.
An apocalyptic burlesque that’s more sanctimonious than savage, Don’t Look Up might make you understand why Will Ferrell recently parted ways with his longtime collaborator McKay.