Adam McKay’s latest is a depressing take on the world at a depressing time.
“Don’t Look Up” follows two scientists who are consistently undercut by greed and politics while they desperately try to stop the apocalypse. Unfortunately, the humor used either came off as forced or too relevant to actually be funny. Perhaps I would have liked it more under different circumstances, but the message and cynicism felt particularly hopeless considering current world events.
Generally speaking, I’m a fan of director Adam McKay’s work but “Don’t Look Up” relies more on who is delivering the lines than actually making those lines comedic. Jonah Hill’s role as Jason Orlean embodies that perhaps more than anyone else. He is both the president’s son and chief of staff, taking a shot at the nepotism of the previous administration. While that concept sounds like it could be funny, it is utterly wasted by jokes that felt more appropriate for a thirteen-year-old than an adult.
Even Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi team up for a storyline and song that highlight our reliance on social media and feel-good news stories; a theme of the film that is addressed constantly over the two and a half hour run time. They are not bad per se, but they are superfluous and distracting. There are a seemingly endless number of cameos and bit parts played by recognizable faces and voices, but their presence takes the focus off the main cast who are supposed to be inspiring.
If you’re not exhausted from reading about the cast yet, the main group is full of A-List types who deliver fairly compelling performances in this otherwise empty film. Jennifer Lawrence’s Kate Dibiasky highlights how women are treated more harshly by the media/internet than their male counterparts. Her anxiety is both understandable and feels real. Rob Morgan brings a very needed down-to-earth presence in the film as Dr. Oglethorpe, the only sane member of the US government. Meryl Streep’s President Orlean does an admirable job propping up an otherwise shallow villain. Mark Rylance gives an unsettling performance as the “Mark Zuckerberg type” of the movie. Cate Blanchett’s character has no ambitions of her own and it is unclear why her storyline was necessary, but she manages to still be engaging in spite of that writing flaw. Other actors/actresses that get extended screen time but are wholly unnecessary are (takes a deep breath) Timothee Chalamet, Tyler Perry, Paul Guilfoyle, Himesh Patel, Melanie Lysnkey and Ron Perlman.
I wish that were the end of the cast discussion but sadly, no. Lastly, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dr. Randall Mindy, a man with crippling anxiety who is thrust into the spotlight and finds that he enjoys it. If there is one thing that DiCaprio excels at in his acting, it is having panic attacks and he showcases this skill frequently in “Don’t Look Up.” His character arc is fairly typical, but he handles it with the poise you would expect from him at this point.
If that seems like a lot of ink about the cast and little about the actual movie, that’s because it is uninspired. “Don’t Look Up” makes fun of the hyper-politicized present that we live in but does it in ways we’ve all seen before. A conservative talk show here, depictions of white men in cowboy hats chanting there; it is a familiar and lazy take. The media is depicted through a “Today Show” -style format that dedicates more time to celebrities than actual news. The only trope they missed was an athlete being particularly dumb or someone pretending to do Joe Rogan’s podcast, though they got Sarah Silverman to partially fill that void.
Relying on familiarity can be a good thing if the message is well thought-out, but I left feeling more hopeless and depressed than anything. Greed and power are prevalent throughout the film for comedic purposes, but it felt like, in the end, they always win. That likely isn’t what McKay was trying to convey based on his previous films, but this is also not a feel-good movie so I can’t rule it out.
Overall, “Don’t Look Up” is a comedy with very little earned comedic features. There were two jokes in the whole film that I actually laughed at, which means the rest of the time I was watching people have panic attacks about the end of the world. There were so many unnecessary scenes and characters that it distorts the main story into something far more cynical than was necessary. It needed to focus on one thing to criticize instead of attempting to attack social media, the tech industry, distrust in science, the media, and politics. What results is a movie that is far worse than the sum of its parts.
Star Rating 2/5
[“Don’t Look Up” is available to stream only on Netflix.]