de facto film reviews 2.5 stars

Messy, overlong but also deeply satirical, Don’t Look Up plays like an extended SNL skit. Adam McKay’s follow-up to Vice, and his most satirical political film yet, amounts to a take action cry of “Americans, stop being complacent!” wrapped in a superb cast that has a lot on its mind but rehashes the same humor and jokes over and over. Apart from the first-rate cast that that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Johan Hill, Tyler Perry, Ariana Grande, and Mark Rylance, the movie Don’t Look Up will no doubt be a Netflix sensation during its Christmas release.

Adam McKay, who has helmed such comedic gems as Anchorman and Stepbrothers, is now a political filmmaker who started this transition in 2015 with The Big Short, which was about the housing crisis and consisted of impressive monologues, spontaneous improvisation, and some unique filmmaking skills that bordered between hurried and effective. In 2018, he continued these sensibilities in exploring the crimes of Dick Cheney with Vice, which was a slight step down from The Big Short, and out of all of McKay’s films, Don’t Look Up, is easily his most ambitious, a hybrid of McKay’s comedic absurdity that is merged with his dramatic sensibilities, falls short in being a combative satire that has many targets and ideas on climate change, social media, COVID, celebrity, pop culture, right-wing populism, Trumpism, and just how vile humans can be towards one another during a time of crisis. At times hilarious, while other times sluggish, and painfully overlong by at least 30 minutes, Don’t Look Up shows McKay at his most self-indulgent and smug yet.

Don't Look Up Review: Netflix Comedy Slogs Towards the Apocalypse | IndieWire

McKay’s last two films explored the details of real events that were simplified into a mostly episodic structure, while often feeling didactic and condescending. With Don’t Look Up, McKay returns to a fictionalized account that mirrors our own post-COVID, post-Trump world where McKay has no interest at all in enlightening his audience on the impact climate change has on climate change, but instead McKay goes the Michael Haneke Funny Bones route where he openly condemns his audience for taking no action on the impending doom that awaits us. The film’s satire, while undeniably comical and reflective of our times, sadly rarely moves beyond its cynicism, in which McKay uses endless absurdity and recycled gag-after-gag to reveal humanity’s complacency to take any action due to being easily fooled by politicians and distracted by pop culture and social media.

The film also feels like a liberal sermonizing lecture that makes timely points, but it suffers from its perpetual indulgence while begrudging everyone else. The end result is a comical but frustrating experience that holds some resonance with its humor, but not as much with its ideas. The satire is certainly schematic: a cataclysmic comet that is discovered by Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his assistant, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), Dr. Mindy is a professor of astronomy at Michigan State University. Alarmed, they want to let the world know, and they quickly realize that the media, corporations, the White House, and society at large are in denial about the news of a massive comet coming towards planet Earth in six months and 14 days.

Don't Look Up' review: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence headline a scathing climate-change satire that occasionally veers off course - CNN

Their first reaction is to break the news to the President of the United States, Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), who makes them wait outside the oval office for 7 hours until finally meeting them, where she’s more concerned about winning the next election and her polling numbers instead of the impending apocalypse. Of course, the comet is easily dismissed as alarmist hysteria as Orlean’s son and chief of staff Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill) explains how they constantly get doomsday scenarios all the time, ranging from plagues to other climate disasters, so it’s instantly downplayed for political purposes. Jonah Hill, while comical in this role, has some hilarious exchanges with Lawrence and offers some huge belly laughs, but sadly is reduced to many bro jokes, and the mama’s boy jokes become quite tedious after a while.

Frustrated, Mindy and Randall end up taking their message about the comet to the media, which ends up being a morning talk show (hosted by Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett) where the producers urge Mindy and Randall to downplay the comet as a cutesy and playful scientific discovery just after the appearance of a huge pop star, played by Ariana Grande. Eventually, one astronomer does trend on social media, but it’s due to Mindy’s meltdown, where she becomes prey to vicious online attacks, mockery, and mean-spirited memes. Credit to a moment later on, when DiCaprio does have a Network movie, “I’m Mad as Hell,” moment that is quite effective.

With an all-star cast, Adam McKay's 'Don't Look Up' plays global catastrophe for laughs - The Boston Globe

Eventually, Don’t Look Up becomes exhausting where its sense of humor wears thin, and the film becomes a half-baked version of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia as we await the destruction of the planet. Much of the great cast is wasted and they aren’t giving much depth. Cate Blanchett, who is one of the greatest actresses of our time, sadly feels very one-dimensional. Her character begins to feel like a throw-away character with little depth. The same ends up happening to much of the cast, like Streep, Hill, Perry, and Timothee Chalamet, who is an unnecessary character that does nothing but really build up extra-running time that feels like it shouldn’t have made it out of the final draft of the screenplay, let alone the cutting room floor, despite having a few resonant moments where his character brings some spirituality. Then there is Rob Morgan, who’s very good but isn’t given as much depth or resonance as the character could have had.

Aside from a strong first half, Don’t Look Up eventually falters as it veers off into cardboard stereotypes, broad satire, flat caricatures, and very hollow humor and drama. There’s nothing refreshing about misinformation co-opting the truth, or how scandals are put above urgent action, or how the role of technology plays in our discourse. Mark Rylance delivers a very flat and insufferable performance that is a cross between billionaire Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, a tech guru who controls most of the shots over Orlean. McKay might think he’s saying clever and timely things, but he’s really just stating the obvious while overstating it with endlessly repeated humor and obvious themes.

Film review: Don't Look Up is a star-studded disaster flick | SaltWire

With only a few characters given emotional depth, DiCaprio and Lawrence get by with having great on-screen chemistry and charisma. Lawrence, in general, is the most compelling character in the film as the voice of reason who’s made out to be the insane one. Lawrence delivers a sense of passion as she attempts her hardest to get the truth out there about the massive comet that is undermined by greed, incompetence, and, sadly, apathy around her, which grounds her character with the most layers.

Visually, McKay continues his kinetic energy and has toned down some of the visual stylistic devices while not breaking the fourth wall, though the camera work and editing are still frenetic and abrupt. Production values are there, the film holds the most scope out of any McKay film with Linus Sandgren using a mix of long and wide lenses manages to continue McKay’s kinetic style. A film that attempts to be a cautionary tale about global warming and even COVID-19 and how unresponsive and uncaring humanity is about it. The satire is there with a first-rate cast, but McKay drains the material with his cluttered approach that holds so much potential with mostly uneven and dry results.