Monday 3 January 2022

Movie Review: Don't Look Up (2021)

An end-of-the-world satire, Don't Look Up holds a mirror to a fractured society where imminent planetary annihilation is a topic of entertainment and debate.

At Michigan State University, astronomy doctoral student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a new large comet, with a trajectory to strike and destroy Earth in 6 months. She alerts her Professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), and they are soon connected with Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. They are granted an audience with US President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her Chief of Staff (and son) Jason (Jonah Hill), who don't take the threat seriously.

Randall and Kate take their story to the media, landing at the top-rated television show hosted by Brie (Cate Blanchett) and Jack (Tyler Perry). Brie's main takeaway is that Randall is a dishy scientist and she sets out to seduce him. Meanwhile the end-of-the-world threat starts to cause panic, but also political divisions, with the science being questioned. When powerful cellular phone and social media tycoon Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) announces the comet contains precious minerals worth trillions, attempts to destroy it are abandoned in favour of trying to exploit the riches, causing further divisions between sidelined scientists and power-hungry politicians.

Both the funniest thing and the scariest thing about Don't Look Up is that it's all too real. Sure, writer and director Adam McKay cannot resist triple-underlining some of his satirical jabs, but unlike in his previous outing, here the glib attitude is controlled and the hits well outnumber the misses.

The premise of a massive comet about to strike Earth may well be the next cataclysmic event facing humanity, but could also stand in for climate change, the next pandemic, or any other large casualty threat. With recent history as an excellent guide, the reactions portrayed in Don't Look Up are more than believable. Memes, ratings, personal attacks, personality cults, denial of science, obfuscation campaigns, political calculus, and profit motives overwhelm the simple truth, inflicting unnecessary death in large numbers.

In a manic example of cramming more as a representation of what counts as important, side-plots and intentional distractions litter the film, some funnier than others. Brie cannot wait to claim Randall as a sexual conquest, threatening his marriage to June (Melanie Lynskey). President Orlean is embroiled in an ever-worsening scandal related to her Supreme Court appointee (Erik Parillo). A politically incorrect pilot (Ron Perlman) leads the initial suicide mission to the comet. After being shunned by the world and having the comet named after her, Dibiasky befriends skater dude Yule (Timothée Chalamet). And most notably, pop star Riley Bina (Ariana Grande) is going through a romantic break-up and reconciliation, a story deemed much more important than the impending end of the world.

A dream cast sharpens all the satirical angles. Despite the abundant talent pool at his disposal, McKay finds meaningful and memorable roles for each, helped by the long 138 minutes of running time. Leonardo DiCaprio has fun as an anxiety-wracked scientist suddenly thrust into the spotlight and labeled an AILF (Astronomer I'd Like to F**k). Mark Rylance is the other stand-out as the truly creepy (no eye contact) tech tycoon holding all the true power, his line delivery a study in understated bludgeoning. Less successful is Jonah Hill as the nepotistic appointment who actually believes he is smart, his contributions rarely clicking.

Openly flirting with species-get-what-they-deserve resignation, Don't Look Up is depressingly funny. 

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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