“Don’t Look Up” Review: Mindless Drab

don't look up

December 27, 2021

At times, it seemed as if the comedy could have been written by Stephen Colbert and played by Pete Davidson on Saturday Night Live. 

I enjoy end of the world films as much as anyone. They make me think about what I would do, who I would spend time with, and what I would seek for fulfillment in my final days of living. When done well, these films elicit the anxiety the characters in front of us must feel, if it were all really going to end. 

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World topped Don’t Look Up by about 9 kilometers (the size of the comet that was going to destroy earth) and that’s saying a lot. While the cast in Don’t Look Up was much more versatile, none were explored. There was no character development. One would think a movie that was nearly 2 hours and 20 minutes long would get around to creating more arc and personality for the characters—from Leo, Jennifer Lawrence and Rob Morgan to Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, and Cate Blanchett, this is a cast whose talents are worth exploring. Without relatability, what’s it matter if the world ends? Who are we missing? If the point of this satire was to make the world so unlikeable that you wind up rooting for its destruction in the end, then the film did a good job.

The casting was the equivalent of name dropping—when someone lists off names of people just to show they know who they are; and if an Oscar was in the director’s purview, the grandiosity of the film should have voided  that ambition from the start. 

Two things were most important in this film: firstly, why General Themes (Paul Guilfoyle) would charge Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) for the White House snacks; and secondly, but equally as important, Meryl Streep’s subpar, but impressive ass. 

The co-writer was Bernie Sanders’ former speech writer, David Sirota. President Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her supporters function as a Trump critique and the message is clear: Capitalist greed will kill us all. Given Meryl Streep’s anti-Trump politics, it would make sense for her to depict who she hates most. We find out that “Don’t Look Up” is her midterm campaign slogan. It’s a phrase opposing the fear and paranoia that the crazy scientists are peddling by saying the world is going to end. In other words, don’t look up at the giant comet about to kill us all.

The longer the movie dragged on, the less serious it became. It was as though life really was a joke, which wouldn’t be surprising coming from a Sanders supporter. Sirota’s contempt for life really shines through here masquerading as irony. But I also hope that if a comet was hurtling toward earth 9 kilometers wide, we wouldn’t be listening to Bill Gates, the man who thinks we should drink human feces

What doesn’t make sense is why the rest of the world could not make successful efforts to blow up the comet. United States participation would have been helpful if it weren’t for Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance)—the Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs hybrid pedophile—but surely such politically motivated writers wouldn’t write a film that places America at the center of the earth because that would be counterintuitive to their politics; however, that America was partly responsible for the destruction of the planet seems in line with the critique. Once the Bash mission—Isherwell’s attempt to save the earth by blowing the comet up and then mining it for trillions of dollars in resources—was the only viable option left to save the planet, it’s obvious the mission would have failed: Capitalism must not win. 

Ultimately, I don’t think the film deserves much political analysis beyond this point. It’s mindless drab and no one really cares. It’s exhausting to watch unoriginal and overplayed themes pander to an audience that might otherwise get a kick out of the visually partisan representations. Good for those who enjoyed the political satire and saw reflections of our own world portrayed, but this is low hanging fruit and is condescending to anyone with a brain. At times, it seemed as if the comedy could have been written by Stephen Colbert and played by Pete Davidson on Saturday Night Live. 

There were genuine and honest moments to make something out of criticizing why humanity is scum and the film does a decent job inserting the relevance of social media and the grift of neutral politics into the mix, so I’m adding one star just for its ability to do that. Adam McKay was able to accurately depict the way social media nullifies seriousness, even when humanity is confronted with something as extreme as extinction. At another point, McKay made fun of those who regurgitate “neutrality” in the face of political tension: “we all just need to open up and communicate with one another and stop arguing.” Such grifters who gain popularity over unoriginal positions deserve to be made fun of. I appreciate good satire when I see it. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough of it. 

Nevertheless, past the political nonsense, there was some substance: the blasé attitude wrought by social media and entertainment; the expediency of political/economic gain; extinction anxiety and the hedonism it produces; the reality of death circling us back to love and family; the significance of everyday things. Substance appeared wholesomely in the end. What made death bearable was the embrace of the trifling conversation: do you like store bought or homemade pie better? How do you like your coffee? It’s the meme of the yellow dog sitting at his table surrounded by fire saying “this is fine.” 

I’m giving this film two and a half stars. 


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