Adam McKay’s apocalyptic sci-fi satire has met with mixed reviews despite its stellar ensemble cast and intriguing premise. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as two astronomers who that the Earth will be destroyed by an approaching comet in a matter of months, Don’t Look Up also stars Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Rob Morgan, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Himesh Patel, Melanie Lynskey, and Cate Blanchett in various supporting roles. The film is an obvious allegory for the media and government’s indifference to climate change, but also reflects and references the more recent pandemic, acknowledging the conflicting ways in which people deal with disaster and how this is every bit as dangerous as the threat itself.
Due to its incredibly topical premise, Don’t Look Up is immediately gripping. This is helped by its star-studded cast, particularly Lawrence, who helps sell the film as something more than comedy. Its supporting cast shore up some of the film’s shortcomings, with Mark Rylance and Timothée Chalamet in particular delivering on some of the best comedic moments. However, despite a valiant effort from its massively impressive cast, Don’t Look Up misses the mark in a few important ways.
The biggest of these is actually the way in which its satire fails to land. It’s so incredibly heavy-handed that it’s practically impossible to enjoy the film’s deeper meaning – Don’t Look Up takes what should be subtextual and delivers it with all the subtlety of an approaching comet. This is particularly noticeable in its more “comedic” moments, in which jokes are made at the expense of the recent pandemic and the public’s varied reactions. This essentially divides the film’s audience in two by poking at society’s raw nerve, which in turn affects the way in which the viewer interprets the film. McKay’s script highlights the elite’s ineptitude with regards to keeping the rest of the planet safe, making it decidedly anti-establishment, but it does so without any real conviction, instead just prodding at a thinly-disguised stand-in for a certain President and a certain eccentric tech billionaire.
Still, despite its issues, Don’t Look Up is a genuinely engaging film. It uses the talents of its cast to carry the film’s plot along and ensure the audience’s investment. Even when there’s glaring plot holes, the film’s characters and their believable responses to imminent danger is enough to keep Don’t Look Up exciting, and its exploration of each member of its cast makes for well-paced development.
Wherever you land on the satire’s execution, Don’t Look Up is an interesting film. It’s not groundbreaking in its writing or presentation, but its excellent and talented cast make it work in a way that’s fun and interesting in equal measure. Even where it’s divisive, there’s still something for just about everyone, making it well worth a watch.
Summary: Occasionally funny, deeply depressing, and thoroughly interesting, Don’t Look Up is saved by its excellent cast. It’s not jaw-dropping or overly thought-provoking, but it entertains enough to warrant a recommendation.
Highlight: Mark Rylance’s creepy delivery of his lines is as hilarious as it is unsettling, and he thoroughly steals the show.