Don’t Look Up, by Cameron J. Czaja

When it comes to comedy directors in Hollywood, Adam McKay is definitely one of the oddest ones out there, but not in a bad way . . . more or less. For those who aren’t familiar with that director, he’s the man responsible for giving us comedy films such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), Step Brothers (2008), The Other Guys (2010), and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013). all of which featured Will Ferrell as the lead. In 2015, however, Adam McKay took a turn in his directing career and made a comedy/drama film titled The Big Short, which focused on the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and earned him his first Oscar for writing. This change of direction continued in 2018 when he made Vice, which was a biopic about former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. At the time of its release it received mixed reviews from critics. Despite that, it managed to get several award nominations, including Best Picture during the 91st Oscars. A few years later, McKay made his first original film since The Other Guys, and that film is Don’t Look Up (2021).

Much like ViceDon’t Look Up has been getting a mixed reception from many critics. Some say it’s a little too on the nose with its message. However, others are praising it. Either way I was somewhat eager see this film, despite the criticism. Also, even though it’s available on Netflix, I tried to watch it in a theater as it was playing in the next county over from me back in December. However, like most things in my life during that month, time wasn’t as flexible for me as it usually would be, and I had to settle watching it in the comfort of my home. I know, first world problems, am I right? With that being said, where I stand on this film? Did I enjoy it or hate it? As usual let’s find out, and there will be spoilers in this review.

Set in modern times, Don’t Look Up follows Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), who is a PH.D. candidate, and her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), at Michigan State University. One night while doing work with the Subaru Telescope, Kate discovers a comet which is outside Jupiter’s orbit. She then presents her findings to Dr. Mindy and his staff, which they celebrate due to being the first to discover this new comet before anyone else. Their joyous moment quickly comes to an end when Dr. Mindy discovers that the comet is ten kilometers wide and is projected to hit the Earth with catastrophic results in six months. Soon afterwards, both Kate and Dr. Mindy, accompanied by Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) who is the head of NASA’s Planetary Coordination Office, present their findings to President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) and Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill), the Chief of Staff and the President’s son. Despite giving credible evidence on the matter, the President decides to “sit tight and assess” the situation because she doesn’t fully believe that comet is a serious matter. Frustrated with not getting through to the President, Dr. Oglethorpe urges Kate and Dr. Mindy to leak the information to the news, which they do on a morning talk show called The Daily Rip with hosts Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett) and Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry). While on the show, the two hosts (much like the president) don’t treat the comet as a serious threat, which causes Kate to have a meltdown on national television. This cause a domino effect in Kate’s life, making her a meme on social media and her boyfriend breaking up with her. On the opposite side of things, Dr. Mindy is looked upon favorably with mainstream audiences. He becomes a frequent guest on The Daily Rip and even starts an affair with Brie Evantee, despite the fact he is a married man with two sons. Moments later the president admits to Dr. Mindy and Kate that they will now divert their attention to the comet mainly because it will distract the media about how the president is involved in a sex scandal with her supreme court nominee. Now that the comet has been deemed a threat, the president plans to use nuclear weapons to strike the comet down, which pleases Kate, Dr. Mindy, and Dr. Oglethorpe. The launch of the weapons is a success, however the strike is aborted when the CEO of a tech company, Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance,) discovers rare elements worth trillions of dollars on the comet. The White House then makes plans to commercially exploit the comet and appoints Dr. Mindy as the National Science Advisor while Dr. Oglethorpe and Kate are left to the sidelines.

As I mentioned earlier, Don’t Look Up has been getting mixed reactions from people. Some say they love it for the comedy, however some dislike it because the message is a little too heavy handed. I’m on the side of those that enjoyed it, mainly because the film is a bit over the top and it is unapologetic about it, though I do understand if there are those don’t like it for those reasons.

If you’ve seen the trailer for Don’t Look Up already and/or pieced together the information from the summary I provided, then you’re probably aware of how it is a satire on mainstream media and the comet itself is an allegory for COVID-19 and global warming. I will say, however, that the COVID-19 comparison is a coincidence as it was in production before the pandemic. If fact, both President Orlean and Dr. Mindy caricatures are meant to represent former President Trump and the latter Dr. Anthony Fauci. If anything that I said in this paragraph so far is somewhat of a dealbreaker for this film then I don’t blame you. Fortunately, however, the caricatures of the real-life figures are so subtle to where if you have watched the film and didn’t make the comparison, then God bless you. The satire and allegories in the film, however, are anything but subtle. 

You know the phrase “one day we’ll look back on this event and laugh?” I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of that phrase, but Don’t Look Up is a perfect example of it. Let’s take the pandemic, for example. Remember when it first started and people were denying the virus was that bad, being over cautious about it, or making memes and/or viral videos about the situation itself? Those scenarios are present in this film done in a hilarious fashion. It painted a picture of how our society handled a global event, and I had a good laugh. While almost all characters in the film weren’t likable, they were good representations of how we took the pandemic first hand.   

While I did enjoy Don’t Look Up quite a bit, aside from the scenes of adultery from the lead, it’s the third act that really won me over. There are themes of forgiveness, fellowship, and a little bit prayer, with the latter introduced by the character Yule played by Timothee Chalamet. He is introduced when he meets Kate working at a grocery store when she moves back home with her parents. Yule is probably the most religious character in the film, though he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve when he’s first introduced. When Dr. Mindy and Kate go to his house to reconcile with his wife and two sons and they plan to have one final meal together, Yule accompanies them and even offers to lead in prayer before eating. Dr. Mindy and his family aren’t a religious one but feel as if they should say something comforting. This scene of humanity was something that was most needed as the film started to develop a much darker tone due to comet’s imminent arrival. While I wish the scene had ended in a more positive note, it’s one that has stuck with me. 

Make no mistake, Don’t Look Up is not for everyone and not only is it a satire, it’s also a cautionary film as well. I don’t blame people if this isn’t their cup of tea because they don’t want to reexperience a film inspired by real life events that were unpleasant. For me, it was an odd film that I enjoyed.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film that had me laughing, only to put me in a depressed state at the end. I’ll leave it to you to decide and whether or not you should check this out, but this was something that had me thinking for about a month. Now I’m curious about what Adam McKay will think of next. Hopefully it’s not as dark as this film.

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