Don't Look Up: A Film That's Absolutely Screaming to be Seen
A satire of global scale
Adam McKay, the prodigious director behind The Big Short – arguably one of the most important films of the last decade – is back doing what he does best. His latest, boasting a star cast that would put the biggest Marvel blockbuster to shame, is a satire that pokes fun at everything that makes the 21st century what it is.
The film is about a comet discovered by a henpecked non-tenured professor, Professor Mindy, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and his outspoken PhD student Dibiasky, played by a refreshing Jennifer Lawrence, which is hurtling towards Earth on course for a collision that would wipe out all life on our dear planet – only, as Mindy and Dibiasky discover much to their chagrin, nobody gives a fuck.
The film goes on to the tell the hilarious yet sad and nerve-wrecking story of how humanity deals with this impending doom – by making memes, starting social media movements and counter movements for or against the scientists, seeing opportunities to make the rich richer, and arguing over fact and fiction – and what makes this whole ride equally funny and scary is how true all of humanity’s vain, silly and superficial responses ring.
What must be applauded is the all-encompassing nature of the film. It truly is of a global scale and that in itself makes it unique. A satire of global scale. It touches upon baffling realities that we are all living with today without questioning them. The completely incompetent political leaders and their inept voters, the tech magnet whose quest for money and power have completely blinded him to humanity, a media hell bent on evading the truth, and a proletariat that will happily lap up the beautiful lie even when (or maybe especially when) the painful truth threatens to ruin everyone.
Leonardo DiCaprio, perhaps one of the pickiest actors working today, will be glad he chose to be part of this film – for how often does one get to be in a story that truly encompasses the times we live in and that too with such flare? Though while Leo is charming and evocative as always, it is truly the ensemble which carries this film.
Jennifer Lawrence as the freaked out PhD student who inadvertently becomes the face of a counter culture movement trying to warn Earthlings of their impending doom gets a role that she can sink her teeth in after a long time. For once her ample talents are not wasted.
But the one who really takes the cake is the old workhorse, Meryl Streep, who is just a total riot as the bafflingly corrupt president of the United States. Streep’s portrayal of a female and smarter version of the former orange Potus leaves no doubt that she is one of the legends of cinema. Jonah Hill as her incompetent son matches her toe to toe. His comic timing is as good as ever.
Mark Rylance, who has shown himself to be a chameleon time and again, excels in the role of a soft spoken tech billionaire without a conscience and without, perhaps, even any humanity (remind you of anyone?) left in him. Kate Blanchett, cast as a conniving smart and ruthless TV anchor who finds a kink in DiCaprio’s precocious professor plays her part to a tee.
And all of these portrayals are obviously greatly helped along by the rich, unique and relevant characters that McKay and writer David Sirota have created for the screen.
As one can tell from his previous films, McKay is someone who likes to go neck-deep into his subject material and then design his directorial style according to the story’s needs. Don’t Look up is no exception, and that is what makes McKay perhaps one of the most versatile storytellers of our times: unbound by the chains of his own success. This not to say that his own unique auteur-istic style is not present. It very much is in this film. Its just that in the case of McKay versatility is a very strong component of what makes his work his own.
Another thing to be admired is his ability to find mirth in the darkest of things, and to find the inherent darkness in the most superficial of things about contemporary life. To make a satire out of our entire lives in 2021-22 is no easy task. I know that seems like a tall claim, but give the film a watch and you will know what I am talking about.
If there is one flaw in Don’t Look Up it is its running time. A heavy film, it does get a bit convoluted and inside its own head at times. McKay’s previously celebrated The Big Short suffered from the same flaw. It’s a lot to take in even if it is endlessly entertaining.
Modern life has rendered us incapable of taking in anything single that takes too much time and focus (another one of the things McKay makes fun of in this film) and perhaps the filmmakers could have kept proceedings a little more streamlined. This writer, at least, had to break down the film into two viewings.
That being said, Don’t Look Up is a film that’s absolutely screaming to be seen. It is perhaps the more crackling time capsule of our times that will ever exist. A film for everyone, because it is a film about everyone. Watch and be prepared for a joyride like no other.