Don’t Look Up (2021) is a black comedy film written, directed, and produced by Adam McKay [The Big Short, Vice] starring a high billed cast of well-known performers, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett, and Meryl Streep. The story was co-written by journalist David Sirota and distributed by Netflix in December 2021. A satirical comedy, Don’t Look Up tries to address a number of issues in its 2h 25m running time. It’s fair to say it doesn’t hit the nail on the head every time, but it was entertaining enough to keep me engaged throughout.
In the film, PhD student Kate Dibiasky [Jennifer Lawrence] discovers a comet, and with Dr. Mindy’s [Leonardo DiCaprio] calculations, they learn it is hurtling towards Earth and will destroy the planet in a little over six months. The astronomers pair up with Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe [Rob Morgan], the head of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, as they try to spread awareness of the comet and urge world leaders into action to avoid the extinction event. Alas, the protagonists find themselves up against it when they are met with apathy from both government bodies and public opinion. It is this discordance between the building fear of the astronomers and the disconnect of others that allows the film to explore several contexts whilst the story carries on.
The style of Don’t Look Up isn’t anything new or ground-breaking, and mainly follows the structure of a multi-camera Hollywood drama. There are a few shots here and there that are a little bit arty, that usually focus on the rather banal. I would surmise they are there to build tension and realism. The thematic content is where Don’t Look Up scores its points. The film sees the astronomers repeatedly run into red tape and political ideology. Madame President Janie Orlean [Meryl Streep] and her son Chief of Staff Jason Orlean [Jonah Hill] are caricatures of republican politicians, most notably parodying Trump’s administration. They are egocentric and power motivated, leading to their complete incompetence and overall smug complacency.
The fictional company BASH is an obvious parody of big tech companies that mine users for data and put profit above decency. It’s an indictment of companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft, who are consistently terrible. The big tech parody ties in quite nicely with conspiracy theories, another topic the film looks at. Don’t Look Up demonstrates how social media proves to be a fertile breeding ground for misinformation and dangerous ideas. In a similar light, the film also explores the function of news as a consumer product. The film shows news companies cherry picking what they choose to promote as the stories and people involved correlate to engagement, traffic, clicks, etc.
As a result of political ideology, biased news, and the over-abundance of consumerist attitudes, the film’s main criticism is of the dismissal of scientific knowledge. This is obviously something we have seen a lot in relation to the climate crisis and the more recent pandemic. Don’t Look Up points the finger at those who try to control and regulate popular opinion, rather than vilifying the targeted. As well as the dismissal of knowledge, we also see the dismissal of women’s voices, as seen thround Kate Dibiasky, who is often ignored and claimed to be hysterical, when compared to her contemporary Dr. Mindy.
The film’s genre falls most comfortably into the field of satirical comedy, although there are elements of science fiction and drama. I would recommend this film to you if you enjoy satirical films, and it is thoroughly entertaining, but in my opinion does miss the mark if compared to a filmmaker like Armando Iannucci. I was also often reminded of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy (2005), and could rather imagine the Orlean administration watering crops with Brawndo if they got paid enough. I suppose my main criticism with Don’t Look Up is that analogies needn’t be quite so on the nose, and it could have been a bit wittier and faster-paced. I found the performances stagnated at some points, but as character development wasn’t necessarily a large part of the film, I don’t think that detracts too much.
Overall, I give Don’t Look Up 7/10 stars. It’s entertaining and timely, hopeful and hopeless.
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