Satire is what closes Saturday night, so the old adage goes; for one reason or another, there’s little of it about these days. So Don’t Look Up is something against the grain; an all-star comedy released on Christmas Eve on Netflix, and sure to find an audience. And while politics are involved, Adam McKay’s film has more to offer than a Saturday Night Live sketch; this story about a comet heading for earth works as an alternative take on disaster movies, but also contains an metaphor for climate change, as humankind takes all the wrong lessons from the warnings received and literally does nothing about the impending crisis.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays a rare, lighter role as Randall Mindy, a lowly astronomer who stumbles across evidence that the world is about to end. Together with his student Kate (Jennifer Lawrence), Mindy attempts to warn the President (Meryl Streep) who is more concerned with her image, smoking, forthcoming mid-terms and her drug-addled son (Jonah Hill). The duo instead head for television to leak the story, where an appearance on airhead talk-show The Daily Rip leads Mindy to betray his wife for an affair with the vacuous Brie Eventree (Cate Blanchett). The US hatches a plan to blow up the comet, but creepy entrepreneur Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) discovers that the comet has repositories of valuable materials, and starts making alternative plans to harvest them while a Dr Strangelove clock ticks down towards doomsday…
Don’t Look Up has plenty of specific shade to throw on the deadly intransigence of the Trump administration (the anaesthesiologist in charge, for one, the politicised ‘impact deniers’ for another, and those who peddle expensive shovels as alternative remedies too). McKay is also is keen to attack expediently-minded politicians, brain-dead talk-show hosts and immoral entrepreneurs; it’s a scattergun approach, but many of the pot-shots do hit their target. The endless trivialisation of Mindy’s mission reflects the superficial nature of 2021 culture, and one of the key aspects here is the wasting of time and putting-off of difficult decisions. The world has the opportunity to fix problems, but continually gets distracted by other, more trivial things, and that’s a solid point for Don’t Look Up to make. Mindy asks people to look up to alert themselves to the onrushing dangers, sparking a movement of those complaining that such a request violates their constitutional right to look down, then a mealy-mouthed liberal middle-ground emerges telling people they don’t have to look up or down, then the charity concerts begin and the battle is lost before it even begins.
Last year Netflix foisted the awful environmental catastrophe movie The Midnight Sky on us, complete with George Clooney dying to save the world for our future children, and such preachy do-gooding had absolutely zero-impact. Mining the same seam of scabrous satire as The Big Short and Vice, Don’t Look Up shouldn’t suffer the same fate, with lots of talking points to draw in casual viewers. Ariana Grande sending herself up wickedly in a big one, ditto Chris Evans, although Timothee Chalamet’s turn falls rather flat. Otherwise, it’s a Swiftian film about the ongoing age of stupid, one that never lectures, but entertains. We should be looking up, not down, right now; McKay’s film wittily depicts how such a direct message is too much to bear right now.
Don’t Look Up lands on Netflix everywhere this Christmas Eve 2021.