Movies For Breakfast DON’T LOOK UP Review

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Great performances and an alarming timely message almost slightly make up for an overlong and muddled satire in “Don’t Look Up”.

Synopsis

Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.

Review
Adam McKay has been on an interesting, polarizing roll since “breaking up” with his former brother-in-arms Will Ferrell. 2015’s “The Big Short” was both critically acclaimed and loved by audiences, 2018’s “Vice” was not-so-loved by audiences and received a polarizing critical reception and “Don’t Look Up” seems to follow in the running. Whatever you may think about his films and if they’re subjectively “good”, McKay has our attention and he knows how to spin his wheels and carry it. The film begins with Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence, great), a Michigan State University astronomy student discovering an unknown comet within Jupiter’s orbit. Her professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio, one of his best performances) discovers the comet is dangerously close to hitting Earth in six months and could potentially cause a planet-wide Armageddon event. From here, Kate and Randall travel in tow with Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan, funny), the head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, straight to the White House to spread the alarming news.

Abrasive President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep, giving her funniest female Trump impression) and her idiotic son, Chief of Staff Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill, steals the show) initially brush off Randall and Kate’s warnings, causing them to travel to a New York Times-like newspaper to spread the news. This leads to a humorous observation of journalism as the New York Times-clone newspaper in this film reveals that their only reason for bringing Kate and Randall’s whistleblowing to light is to expose the wrongs of Orlean’s administration. From here, they end up a Good Morning America-like program to let people know of the comet (anchored by Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett). The White House staff then buckles down and takes Kate and Randall’s imminent warnings seriously, in order to take the attention off an incoming comet. All the while, all the motivations and selfishness of each character eclipses the dire warnings of Kate and Randall and therein lies the film’s biggest, saddest joke. The only caveat being that the joke lands a bit too long.

One of the biggest qualities of “Don’t Look Up” is its’ so-funny-it’s-sad mirror it holds up to its audience of what COULD absolutely happen if this kind of apocalyptic danger happened today. In the age of post-Trump, climate change believers vs climate change deniers, “gotcha” journalism taking the place of true journalism and pro-vaxxers vs anti-vaxxers, this film could not ring as true in any other era. The film’s best running joke of everyone (outside maybe Randall and Kate) focusing on everything else – financial gain, campaigns, scandals – instead of the possible life-ending comet slowly approaching Earth is also what holds the film back at the same time. McKay tries his best to fit in every criticism, observation and joke he has about the flawed intersection of news and popular culture into the 138-minute timeline. This leads to many filler subplots such as a celebrity breakup (played by Ariana Grande and Scott Mescudi, unmemorable) taking precedence in the news over the warning of the comet, Mindy’s affair with anchor Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett understands the assignment, giving an effective shallow performance) and president Orlean running a ludicrous campaign trying to divert attention away from her scandal with a Supreme Court nominee. All of this serves as wasteful time in the film rather than add any meaningful to it.

The other biggest quality in “Don’t Look Up” is its acting and almost bottomless quantity of acting talent. DiCaprio gives one of his best performances as Dr. Mindy, adapting the nerdy cadence, look and presence of a middle-aged astronomy professor. Mark Rylance matches him as Peter Isherwell, a sociopathic tech billionaire that is akin to Elon Musk living inside the body of Tim Cook. Jennifer Lawrence does great work as Dibiasky but unfortunately, halfway through, it feels like the film doesn’t know what to do with her character and unfortunately pushes her character to the sidelines (if only for a moment) to focus on Mindy. It is a great disservice to Lawrence’s acting ability as Dibiasky is the audience’s surrogate someone who is horrified and flabbergasted at the naivete and ignorance of everyone around her. Jonah Hill carries the award for funniest one-liners and Meryl Streep hilariously acts a fool and lets her hair down as the Head of State. Another noteworthy supporting performance is Ron Pearlman as a racist colonel appointed to spearhead a mission to take down the comet. Timothée Chalamet and Melanie Lynskey are underused and also crammed in as Kate’s boyfriend and Randall’s wife.


Closing Thoughts
Don’t Look Up’s heart is in the right place with its pointed satire but its heart and A-List roster of stars can’t match its overlong runtime and repeatedly detouring plot. The film falls in line behind “Vice” as another polarizing entry in McKay’s filmography – great performances, great directing and sharp commentary with an unbalanced plot to boot. This film, with all of its zaniness, feels like McKay doing his best David O. Russell impression with over-the-top characters and an even more over-the-top storyline. Humor takes a front seat while drama sits in the back. However, as we’ve seen with “The Big Short”, McKay works best when he instead leans more into drama with humor in the backseat (never too far away but in the rearview). However, polarizing or not, McKay still carries our attention and I’m anticipating what the man brings us next.


Trailer