‘Don’t Look Up’- Film Review: Adam McKay’s Latest Made Me Both Confused and Afraid

Anytime there’s anything from the work of writer-director Adam McKay, it’s bizarre the kinds of reactions everybody seems to have with his recent films. For the most part, back then, his straightforward comedies like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy or Step Brothers became the go-to classics of the decades. He’s since pushed those aside to give us a closer look at the country through a stressful lens. When it comes to his recent films, I really liked the Oscar-winning The Big Short, a look at the 2007-08 financial crisis that had a lot of information to take in but was engrossing at the time. However, my thoughts changed on his last film Vice, the political biopic on Dick Chaney. Besides its powerhouse performances, it was so full of itself that I don’t understand the love of the awards it earned. Don’t Look Up is his latest to stream on Netflix that will be the most discussed out of everything he’s done, in a good or bad way.

What’s the Story: While at work at Michigan State University, astronomy grad student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and her professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) discovered an asteroid heading directly towards Earth. After calculating the comet’s trajectory, it is projected to make an impact within six months, calling it an extinction level event unlike anything before. To warn everybody, the two astronomers go on a media tour to reach the goal that the planet-killer comet is something to be worried about, including discussing the severe matter with President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) to take the necessary steps to stop it from happening. The problem—the world seems pretty indifferent.

Honestly, the closer this got to it coming out, I didn’t know how I’d react. Out of every movie that has come out in 2021, I felt this would be dividing so many people, especially on social media. Can’t say I was surprised. You got one side that loves it, and you got the opposite side that hates everything this stands for. The moment of truth came during the evening of Christmas Day… and it left me so conflicted after it was over. But thinking about it a few days later, Don’t Look Up has me very much so in the middle and nowhere else.

This was pretty much what I expected. McKay shows off his balance of comedy and drama that mostly works. This could come true, and any time there’s an online article about something like this, it wouldn’t happen if the percentage of missing people is in the high 90%. Nowadays, or at least for the past five years, you’ve come to realize a lot of people show their true colors in their stupidity. But watching this made me a little stressed out? Kind of, but this shows the problem why McKay couldn’t make this great on my end. We all know what this really trying to say and it is understandable to grasp onto, while it didn’t need to beat us over the head to get the overreaching message. It was pretty obvious how this reflects how the government is willing to do nothing when responding to the horrific news that causes the country to go insane, especially what’s been going on with this current COVID pandemic and people either believing it or not. Even when it seems like everything being planned should’ve been clear cut, it backfires in a way that makes this more complicated.

For a Netflix original, this has an enormous cast out of any movie that has come out this year where a large majority of them get the chance to do their best here. Obviously, the best performance out of everybody is Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Mindy. Most of us forget that while he’ll always be known for his great dramatic work, he surprisingly works when given a moment to flex his comedic chops. With the anxiety and impatience Dr. Mindy is currently going through, you feel his struggle immensely. Probably my favorite scene throughout is when he goes on a hilarious rant on par with Peter Finch’s iconic monologue in Network that honestly expresses how stressful this dire situation is. That moment is great; I don’t care. I’m a fan of Jennifer Lawrence, so I was glad this was the best movie she’s been in for seven years where I’m confident in saying this is her best performance since then. Kate gets labeled as crazy and doesn’t get that much attention after a breakdown since nobody cares about what will happen to the planet. 

Those are the main leads I cared for the most throughout the runtime. Other recognizable celebs have their chance to shine for the time this needed them, but at the same time should’ve been given more to do. The third important person is Streep, the girl-boss president who’s more concerned about the midterms than a comet. And along with her is Jonah Hill as her Chief of Staff son, Jason, who’s meant to be obnoxious, but he does have a few moments that got me to laugh. To round out the cast are Rob Morgan as Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe, the other sane person during this situation; Mark Rylance as this soft-spoken Elon Musk/ Jeff Bezos tech billionaire Peter Isherwell; Timothée Chalamet as Yule; Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett as the hosts of the talk show The Daily Rip: Jack Bremmer and Brie Evantee, and Ron Pearlman as Colonel Benedict Drask. If I had to pick the weakest characters I would’ve taken out, probably Chalamet, because I didn’t care too much about his character. And if I had to pick someone else, maybe Rylance because he came across as weird.

Some reactions will say that though this is a comedy, nothing made them laugh. On the contrary, I thought it was funny for particular moments, though it scatters as the film continues. For an example of what was good, Kate has a running joke about why they paid the Lieutenant free snacks I got out of it. Although a huge portion of it wasn’t as amusing as I had hoped. And because Ariana Grande and Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi are known for being a famous couple in this who broke up and quickly reconnected, they sang a somewhat amusing song called “Just Look Up” that I’d want to see nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song. Was there a reason for them to be in it? Not really.

Where the film falters comes from problems that don’t land as much. For starters, no comedy needs to be almost two and a half hours long to drive the point, and the second act wasn’t as impactful as when it began. Case in point, I don’t like my comedies passing two hours. Situations go about figuring out what to do with the comet and the stuff with DiCaprio and Blanchett was completely uninteresting since you know the outcome. A nice reunion of The Aviator stars, but still. I wouldn’t say I liked the editing style throughout that I was hoping wouldn’t be much of an issue early on, but the quick cuts and cutting to random footage were really distracting and clashed with the tone, similar to Vice. I thought it was awful that McKay had to do something unusual to increase the level of anxiousness. Once it reached the third act, it ended on a strong enough note that was completely unexpected in the way it went. Of course, it also helps that Nicholas Britell’s score was impressively good throughout it, which I think is good enough for him to earn another Oscar nomination.

There have been so many polarizing opinions that I want to keep out of the discord concerning the film. Honestly, I can’t blame anyone who really loves it; a friend of mine had it on his best list. But are some people overdramatic in thinking it’s one of the worst this year? I think so. Maybe when the time comes and I’ll happen to watch it again, there’s a chance my thoughts can improve. But, unlike his last two films, I don’t believe it has a shot of getting a ton of Oscar nominations, even though the number of discussions surrounding it could sneak in unexpectedly. Honestly, just writing this review still brings conflict inside my head and it almost makes me realize satire makes me stupid when I can understand some of it. Yeah, I’m more on the mildly positive side with a touch of saying it could’ve been a lot better. I guess this was meant to be the next Dr. Strangelove or Idiocracy

Overall, Don’t Look Up doesn’t hit every note the way writer-director Adam McKay tackles its satire smoothly for an event that could possibly happen to Earth. But its better comedic beats and the stacked ensemble (DiCaprio, Lawrence, Morgan) made it an alright time, though nowhere great. This won’t happen, but I do want to see him go back to doing silly comedies.

Grade: B-

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