2 out of 5 stars
Adam McKay is angry. For a guy who built his directing and writing career on Will Ferrell comedic adventures, he has become a creative who has to scream his message from the rooftops. He went from introducing us to Ron Burgundy to making a brilliant film about the financial crisis of 2008 with The Big Short. This must have switched something within this award-winning director to make films that conveyed his political views. Beginning with Vice and moving on to the thinly veiled climate change project, Don’t Look Up.
Instead of engaging directly with this generation's primary topic, he switches out climate change for an extinction-level comet as it makes its way towards earth. At the astronomy department of Michigan State, Dr. Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) makes the astounding discovery that would eventually bear her name. Under the tutelage of Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), the team determines that the comet is on a collision course with earth in approximately six months. This devastating finding leads them to contact NASA to warn the world. Still, their concern is initially treated with skepticism, but eventually taken seriously.
After a brief phone call with the government agency, the pair is whisked off to Washington DC. Within moments of their announcement, they must brief President Janie Orlean, enthusiastically played by Meryl Streep, who is doing her best work to channel Donald Trump. She quickly dismisses their position and causes them to leak the news to the press. An action that causes a cascading effect of government intervention, a social media firestorm and leads to the two unknown astronomers becoming instant celebrities with varying levels of appeal. All the while, the comet races towards the earth. This means the world must do all it can to determine if this is a real threat to life or merely another unwarranted warning from the scientific community.
Even though this story is listed as a satire, there is very little to offer that is comical or farcical. McKay manages to get his leading actors to scream at the screen for him with enough f-bombs to ensure no one misses the intensity of his message. One that is clearly one-sided and shows that everyone on the opposite side is a capitalistically-inspired fool. Interestingly, subtlety is usually an element of effective satire. Still, the former director of Step Brothers does nothing to employ this aspect of his writing. Even if one agrees with McKay's political views, this whole thing will feel like a gut punch throughout and continues on relentlessly to the end.
Regardless, it can be said that the cast seems to relish every moment of this cinematic journey and enjoys sticking it to those who disagree with the film's message. This means that there are performances that will bring smiles to both sides of the argument. Jonah Hill (Moneyball) fully commits to his role as President Orlean's son and Chief of Staff, Jason Orlean. While Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) is captivating as the Steve Jobs-inspired, messianic corporate leader of Bash, Peter Isherwell. Then as Mckay incorporates Tyler Perry, Ron Perlman, Timothée Chalamet, Cate Blanchett and even Ariana Grande in the mix, this whole thing looks like it has the approval of all of the heavy-hitters in Hollywood.
Yet, unlike the brilliance of The Big Short, this all turns into a depressing hot mess. It fails to entertain or educate anyone. Suppose it is meant to serve as a temper tantrum for the elite within the entertainment industry. In that case, it should be treated like anyone who sees this at the local shops with an angry toddler. Just look away, not up or down, just look away. Maybe they will stop their ranting when they realise no one is paying any attention to them.
Reel Dialogue: What would you do if you found out the end of the world was near?
Don’t Look Up will have a similar effect on most viewers when they see the guy standing in the local park. You know the one, he is wearing a sandwich board around his neck yelling, ‘The end of the world is near.’ These sympathetic and impassioned individuals may believe what they preach, but their method usually falls on deaf ears. Yet, this is a question that has been asked throughout human history. What would you do if you found out the end of the world was near?
This is one aspect of the film that does provide an engaging glimpse into the human condition. The answers vary from sex to drugs to religion, while none seem to give the writer/director a clear solution. Except it was fascinating to see how he included Timothée Chalamet’s character, Yule. A seemingly misguided millennial who becomes the love interest for Jennifer Lawrence’s angry astronomer. He admits to being a closet Evangelical Christian and provides one of the most hopeful moments of the film with his well-timed prayer.
In all reality, we may not see the end of the world in our lifetime. Still, we all will eventually die. Not to depress you, merely stating the obvious. So, how do you respond to that?
To find answers to this question and more, consider starting a conversation about God by going to thirdspace.org.au