A comet hurtles toward Earth in Adam McKay’s newest satirical science fiction comedy, Don’t Look Up. This film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as two low-level astronomers who discover the comet and go on a media tour to warn humankind of the threat that would destroy the planet in six months. This is McKay’s newest film after most recently helming The Big Short and Vice. His transition from pure comedy movies to more serious comedies with real-world politics tied into it continues with another movie sure to polarize critics and audiences.
The trailer for this movie advertised it as, “Based on real events that haven’t happened yet.” The film’s satirical tone is apparent in every minute, with the absurdity of every event and character. The premise is earth-shattering, and McKay doubles down on every bit of the insanity, all while winking at the audience. Say what you want about McKay and his in-your-face style, but he is a director with a vision and a message, and he wants you to hear it.
The film knows precisely what it wants to say, as all of the story beats and characters are symbolic of the real world. In addition, the ticking clock of the movie with six months before the comet slams into Earth allows for the film to be incredibly engaging, as our two main characters, Dr. Randall Mindy (DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence), scramble to warn the public. Their journey is incredible as we root for them to get the message out and for the government and the media to do something, but their words often fall on deaf ears.
Part of why Don’t Look Up works so well is the relationship between Randall and Kate, who bounce off each other very well. Furthermore, the writing for every character in this movie is pitch-perfect. The film’s main antagonist is President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), the scandalous politician who puts her needs before the rest of the world. She is incorporated into the story very well, as is her son, Jason (Jonah Hill), who also serves as Chief of Staff. Jason is the mama’s boy with the Birkin bag, and his bold personality allows for excellent moments in the film. McKay did an assured job of writing the characters as flawed but likable people. While the characters can feel unrealistic, it matches the heightened reality of the satire.
The characters on the page are brought to life superbly by our star-studded ensemble cast. DiCaprio takes on another fascinating character as a scientist having a panic attack in every other scene. He’s mesmerizing to watch, and you can feel his commitment to the role simply in how much he screams. DiCaprio’s unwritten reputation for shouting in all of his movies shines through here, as there are scenes where he stands toe-to-toe with Nicolas Cage in decibel level. Likewise, Lawrence gets excellent moments of humor while also showing the amount of stress her character is under.
And the supporting cast is electric. Everything Hill says is gold, and Streep is magnificent as this charming politician hiding evil behind her smiling mug. Rob Morgan has a good presence in the film, as does Mark Rylance as Peter Isherwell, where we can barely understand anything he’s saying, but we hate him nevertheless. Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry are effortless in their performances as news anchors who don’t take the comet seriously. Finally, after already starring in Dune and The French Dispatch, Timothée Chalamet ends the year on a high with a hilarious performance he embodies to a tee.
While it can feel strange that Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi briefly pause the film to perform their new single, the movie’s style is unique. You can tell McKay wanted to make a film about how the government and the media respond to climate change, and he does a great job of that. He shines a light on the politicization of science and how people on social media don’t take issues as seriously as they should, and his message is as subtle as a sledgehammer. While McKay’s excessiveness may be grating to some, this is an important message tied up in a moderately funny political sci-fi satire.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.