Look, I get where “Don’t Look Up” is coming from. We’re coming through a global crisis where experts have been ignored, literally every issue is strategically used to divide us politically and the results have been depressingly awful.
Weaponizing all of that angst into satire makes all the sense in the world. But if you are going to use satire to make a global, apocalyptic statement, then you need to be focused like a laser. “Don’t Look Up” is more like a bull in a china shop.
It looks to take on all of society’s ills from fractured politics to social media to outsized corporate influence in one fell swoop. This movie is swinging a wrecking ball, and the results are about as exhausting and depressing as the past two years of real life has been.
The premise is pretty simple, a couple of astronomers, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, discover a comet that is going to hit Earth and wipe out all life on the planet unless the world can mobilize to stop it. They are basically ignored.
Some of my favorite movies have taken this big swing. “Dr. Strangelove” turned Cold War paranoia into a gleeful farce, “Network” was a bleak sendup about the role of media in our daily lives and “Idiocracy” is a goofball romp through a future where intelligence has evolved right out of the human species.
These movies all certainly wore their cynicism on their sleeve, but they stayed zeroed in on their tone so you always knew exactly where you stood as the stakes got increasingly dire. There was also a bass note of hope that softly thumped through all these movies that kept you smiling even as everything crumbled around you.
“Don’t Look Up” couldn’t find a consistent tone and I’m not sure if it even cares to have one. Writer/director Adam McKay wants to be funny and heartfelt and profound, and he swings wildly from farce to genuine earnestness and all points in between. In the end it become so cynical almost to the point of nihilism.
The thesis of “Don’t Look Up” is that the world is currently so hapless that the only thing that decent, intelligent people can do is just sit around and wait to die because no matter how hard they try, nothing they do changes how screwed we are. That level of hopelessness is not what I need from a movie right now.
So is there anything redeemable about this movie? Sure. The performances are great across the board, especially Cate Blanchett as a morning talk show host who happily pedals fluff even though she is shrewdly intelligent. There’s also a good running gag about a general that charges for snacks (although for a “comedy” the laughs are very few and very far between).
If you aren’t aware that the world is presently, fundamentally broken, then this movie isn’t going to be the thing that clues you into that fact. Instead, in the name of proving an intensely well-proven point, it just presses down on a frayed, exposed nerve left raw by the pandemic and the ridiculousness that surrounded it. In some ways, that’s more of a bummer than the world blowing up.
“Don’t Look Up” is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content, graphic nudity and drug content.