Don’t Look Up (2021)

don'tlookup1Hollywood has taught us that, come the threat of a planetary extinction event, we’ve simply nothing to worry about- humanity will clearly do the right thing, either the best of NASA saving us (Deep Impact) or NASA instead enlisting brave deep-core drillers to do what needs to be done (Armageddon). Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up, a not-so festive treat from Netflix, suggests the opposite- that humanity won’t be interested, unable to turn its attention from its social media, mobile phones and televisions long enough to even notice Doomsday is near.

Its an interesting conceit, and one born of the apparent grudging public and political interest over the last few decades in climate change and environmental disaster. Scientists and eco-warriors have been shouting for years about melting glaciers and extreme weather events, but few seemed to notice and politicians were more concerned with, well, more pressing concerns like being popular and getting re-elected. Even now, with the Doomsday Writing apparently up on the wall and all over our television news and documentaries, the world seems slow to change tack. The added dominance of social media’s distractions, and contrary ‘experts’ keen to bestow their personal wisdoms on Twitter and YouTube (never mind lobbyists with their own agendas/interests) has clouded the issue no end. McKay seems to suggest that humanity is doomed; we are simply incapable of waking up and smelling the coffee, whether it be environmental disaster or a 9-kilometre rock hurtling at us through space.

The idea is fine, and its a pretty decent premise for a particularly dark comedy, one with a decent and timely message regards the dangers of social media, celebrity culture, the extremely rich and powerful elite, and who we choose to listen to. Unfortunately though it goes rather astray in this bloated, overlong film that is so filled with star turns that it seems rather the Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World of disaster movies.  Indeed, it could just as easily have been titled It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad End of the World– Stanley Kramer’s road-chase comedy filled with comedy star celebs of its day transposed to a disaster flick filled with so many stars of our own that it threatens to sink under the weight of slumming egos. I only thank God that it inexplicably doesn’t include Will Ferrell. How was he too busy?

Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Ariana Grande, Jonah Hill, Timothée Chalamet, the puppets of Sesame Street and several other notable thespians feature in a film stuffed with A-list talent like a veritable Netflix Christmas Turkey. Its well-intentioned and not all of the cast make fools of themselves, but like the 1963 madcap comedy that it reminded me of, its just too much, too bloated….it lacks the focus to really land its message, its ‘jokes’. DiCaprio is excellent as astronomer Dr Mindy whose assistant Kate Dibliasky brings to his attention her discovery of a giant comet hurtling towards Earth, and the film would probably have been all the better for dropping the majority of the supporting cast to instead focus on the scientists misadventures trying to warn the world. Their story is indeed the central plotline but it gets blurred by all the attention given to Meryl Streep’s career-politician President, more concerned with her own re-election and a brewing political scandal, and Mark Rylance’s tech guru who dooms the world with his own agenda (power/wealth/empty promises). 

This film lacks the deft touch of someone like Douglas Adams, whose Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in its various forms, pretty much delivered the same message with much more skill and humour, and without spending $75 million to do it. I did quite enjoy Don’t Look Up, indeed far more than I had expected to from what I gather has been a pretty poor critical reception. It just wasn’t as funny or as dramatic as it should have been- its sunk by the attention-grabbing casting, the feeling of elite celebs doing their bit for a good cause before jumping back into their private jets to fly to their huge mansions of endless bathrooms, gigantic television screens and garages full of luxury, gas-guzzling sports cars, ignorant that their elite lifestyles and own social media accounts might actually be part of the problem the film is essentially rallying against. Maybe that’s the meta-joke that slips past every-ones heads. Maybe I’m taking it all too seriously, but honestly, with this film the jokes on everyone.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Look Up (2021)

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    Welcome back! Hope you’re well.

    You are definitely taking ‘Dn’t Look Up’ too seriously. It’s a comedy. It made us laugh a lot in this household, but different strokes for different folks. Mark Rylance in particular nailed his part brilliantly – it’s only slightly less impressive because we’ve also been re-watching the fantastic ‘Silicon Valley’ yet again, and no-one can top Christopher Evan Welch’s performance in the first season of that show.

    Interesting you reach for Douglas Adams as a comparison, when his work – as much as I’ve enjoyed it over the decades – has always been the very definition of ramshackle and hit & miss for me, and has the same unwieldy shape you’re criticising here. There are lots and lots of good bits, but Adams’ penchant for leaving everything until the last minute and then just banging out novels to meet third and fourth deadlines [probably at the point where his publishers were about to sue] leaves a body of work that… could be better. And there were millions involved there too, as he got some of the biggest advances in the business.

    1. Yes its a comedy and that can be a subjective thing, but I got the sense, from the talent thrown into it that the ‘message’ was always the main thing- indeed to the point it usurped the comedy somewhat. I just honestly thought Hitchhikers Guide was funnier, and some of the similarities pronounced- the Ark of frozen rich liberal survivors going to a New World was done better with Hitch-Hiker’s bunch of telephone sanitizers etc being sent off on a colony ship, hoodwinked by a fabricated emergency. I suppose when I reference Adams’ books I’m referring to the first two, and the BBC TV series. I didn’t have much interest in all the later extended stuff.

      Glad you thought Don’t Look Up was funny though, it shows the comedy does work. I mean, I laughed and tittered and smiled a bit, and I loved the downbeat ending. Maybe the script needed another pass, a few more one-liners, sharpening it up a little. The film doesn’t deserve some of the negativity its receiving, which was partly what I was getting at regards the viewer being the butt of the films jokes. I mean, that’s the point of the film if anything- look up away from those damned smartphones etc and see what’s going on around you, and some of the social media/digital media outlets that make money from celebrity bullshit naturally take exception to that. Its rather funny seeing them give the film two stars or less, its like some of them take it as a personal affront.

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