Adam McKay Delivers a Comedy in the Form of a Disaster Movie with ‘Don’t Look Up’
What happens if Chicken Little was right, and the sky really is falling? Adam McKay, the Oscar-winning director and writer, showed with The Big Short (2015) and Vice (2018) what occurs when he turns his unique commentary towards a target. Two questions remain. Is political or social satire just too easy these days? Has insanity permeated our globe to the degree that pointing out the lunacy has become ho-hum? McKay wrote the script from a story by journalist David Sirota, and it’s even more extreme than his previous work, and likely meant as a wake-up call to all of us.
Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence stars as Kate Dibiasky, a student (with a Carl Sagan figurine on her desk) who discovers a large comet speeding towards Earth. Oscar-winner Leonardo DiCaprio stars as her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy, and we can see on his face what his calculations mean. The two head to Washington to inform the president of their findings. President Orlean (a nod for movie buffs) is played by Oscar-winner Meryl Streep, and her Chief of Staff is Jonah Hill, who also happens to be her son. President Orlean is too concerned about her falling poll numbers to pay much heed to the scientists, opening the way for Jonah Hill to be the most Jonah Hill he’s ever been. It’s an outrageous scene, yet it feels all too possible.
Dibiasky and Mindy are so shocked and frustrated at the blow-off that they decide to take the story to the media. Appearing on the vacuous and highly-rated morning talk show, “The Rip,” they are guided to “Keep it light. Keep it fun” while on the air with the entirely too-upbeat co-hosts played by Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry. At this point, Dibiasky is unable to control her frustration. This results in her becoming a social media meme, while Dr. Mindy becomes the “hot” astronomer – labeled an AILF. This is an obvious take on Dr. Anthony Fauci’s popularity during the pandemic. Another opportunity for Mindy includes getting closer with Blanchett’s talk show host, despite his wife (Melanie Lynskey) taking care of the home front.
Obviously, most of these characters are a bit cartoonish, but that’s the point. Once the media pressures the president into taking action, an Armageddon type mission is planned, only to be scratched at the last moment and replaced by a more profitable option. Peter Isherwell (Oscar-winner Mark Rylance as a blend of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk) is a tech billionaire and Orlean supporter, and his plan involves mining the meteor for precious metals while also saving the planet.
Although Dibiasky has dropped out of the ‘spread the word’ campaign, she’s still tracking the approaching asteroid via her diet app as she hangs out with a philosophical stoner played by Timothée Chalamet. It started as 6 months and 14 days, and we only get periodic updates on how much time remains. Instead, the focus is on the bumbling antics of those involved and the zany reactions of the public. We even get President Orlean with a speech from the deck of a battleship in yet another dig at past politicians. Popstar Arianna Grande shifts her celebrity support from manatees to a hit duet with Kid Cudi entitled “Just Look Up,” while Himesh Patel plays an opportunistic reporter-boyfriend. Also, Rob Morgan is excellent in his role as supportive scientist Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe, and Ron Perlman goes a bit off the rails as the pilot on the first mission.
It’s an incredible cast and what a joy to see DiCaprio in a role so far removed from his usual characters. He even gets a Network scene here, and overall, he makes us understand how serious the science is, and how easily someone can go off track. Jennifer Lawrence gets the film’s best recurring gag, while Jonah Hill fits right in as the impetuous benefactor of nepotism. With the abundance of tooth veneers flashed by a multitude of characters, we can assume the film’s dental budget was sky-high.
McKay uses the oncoming meteor as a stand-in for the global warming crisis, and his tendency to lean heavily left does shine through. However, it’s crucial to note that no one, no thing, no organization, and no affiliation is safe during this one. Whereas Armageddon took pride and patriotism of blue-collar folks and turned them into heroes, McKay examines the other side which is all about feelings, discussions, social media, and popularity.
McKay blends Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove with Mike Judge’s Idiocracy (which has proven much too accurate) and delivers a disaster movie that uses an asteroid to point out the real danger which is ourselves. Is it too much? Too silly? Too angry? Too long? Simply playing to the home crowd? It’s likely to be criticized for not being smart enough or clever enough, but seriously, have you looked around at society lately? Adam McKay delivers loads of comedy here, and maybe by laughing at ourselves, we can find a way to improve things. His final scene is more grounded than the rest of the film, and quite touching on its own. Stay tuned for the credit scenes.