Don't Look Up approaches the idea of denial and fake news with all of the subtly of a 2×4 to the face, and that combined with some genuinely funny moments and some real heart, artfully gets the point across while not getting overly preachy.
Director: Adam McKay
Summary: Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.
When it comes to satire, there are really only two approaches. There is the one where you walk so close to taking the material seriously that many mistake your satire for something else. A great example of that would be Starship Troopers, which some criticized for being a fascist pro-war movie when in reality, it was a brutal condemnation and satire of fascist pro-war films. The other way is to go the other extreme and label your satire with plenty of references to reality, so people make the connection. That is very much what Adam McKay is doing with Don't Look Up, which, as he said before, is about the climate crisis. Instead of rising tides or anything like that, McKay has swung for that extreme direction and has made the impending danger about a comet that is going to destroy the world in six months. From there, we follow the two discovering scientists as they try to convince the world that they are all going to die unless they act right now. However, people aren't so keen on acting quickly [that might not be popular with voters] or talking about things that bum people out [that might be bad for ratings].
While the humor that comes from people acting like the total extermination of the human race isn't a big deal is there and makes Don't Look Up a ton of fun to watch, it's the cast that really sells everything. Just looking at the list already, and you know it's going to be good, but everyone is bringing their A-game to this movie. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence both really channel that "how is this even happening" energy that we have seen from scientists in recent years. They both, in different ways, really manage to get that frustration, anger, and disbelief in how all of this is even a conversation that they are having instead of just acting. Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill play those types of politicians that make you want to bash your head into a wall because they are just not thinking in the long term. Hill, in particular, is fascinating to watch in this movie as he might be one of the worst human beings in a cast of terrible people acting terrible.
Cate Blanchett is having a very good month as she brings another excellent performance in Don't Look Up and her dynamic with Tyler Perry is extremely natural. That being said, the most unrealistic part of the entire movie is the idea that journalists wouldn't be all over the idea of a comet hitting the planet to kill the entire world. There are plenty of journalists out there making plenty of noise about the dangers of climate change, and the fact that McKay didn't really show anyone doing that was a miss on his part. However, he is going for broad targets here, so it makes sense. Mark Rylance, as the Elon Musk of this world, is one of the weirdest things we'll see on-screen all year, and you cannot look away from him. The moments that really make the movie shine are the smaller human moments. Timothée Chalamet's character is someone that audiences are likely not going to expect considering the marketing, and Ron Morgan as a fellow scientist who understands "the game" a little more than anyone else, is also very good to watch. Melanie Lynskey is also an unsung hero in this movie, and some of the best moments in the movie involve her.
While the cast is here, and they are all game for the things that McKay is saying in Don't Look Up, it's the details that are really going to stick with people. It's the way that McKay carefully walks the line of people in denial and why they might choose to live that way. He doesn't try to excuse the actions of the deniers in this movie, but he also doesn't completely demonize them either. There is a clear right and wrong side here, but in the end, the sides don't really matter as long as people start to finally get things done. There are so many little details in here that aren't pulling their punches, you're going to know the real-world equivalents of the people portrayed in this movie, and McKay makes sure that you know who is at fault here and who are the innocent victims that are gullible enough to be lead astray. Even now, over a week later, the final scenes are rather incredible and a gut punch that is so unexpected that even typing this sentence and thinking about it is enough to get you choked up.
This is not to say the movie is entirely perfect. McKay is walking a fine line here, and sometimes it doesn't entirely work. The film is extremely long, over two and a half hours, so watching it on Netflix for a break might be good for some people. Sometimes, it seems to meander a little, mostly during the overly long second act, but that might be intentional. The characters are trying to meander their way to a solution, so we're left watching them meander as well. There just had to be a better way to pace it all so that this already very long movie didn't already feel even longer.
Don't Look Up might be one of McKay's best work, and it really doesn't pull its punches when it comes to the targets it is painting on people. It's another movie in a row of films this year that really nails the ending, which is a lot harder to do than one would think. It's the kind of movie that hits too close to home at times and might make you leave wondering if humanity really would refuse to look up even if a giant comet was barring down on us. However, the final scenes really hammer home the good of people and how much the little things can make a real difference in the end. Also, stay through the credits.