x

Cinema

Review: Leo, JLaw Are trying to Warn Us in “Don’t Look Up”

December 9, 2021

You know you’re in deep doodoo when that planet-destroying comet on a collision course with Earth isn’t your biggest problem.

Your biggest problem: You’re the scientist who discovered the darned thing but nobody has the patience or the bandwidth or the political will to believe it. And it’s coming. In six months. That’s a fact.

That the comet is a stand-in for climate change is hardly a secret going into “Don’t Look Up,” Adam McKay’s exceedingly watchable, funny and star-studded yet somewhat chaotic satire. For one thing, its star is Leonardo DiCaprio, for whom climate change awareness is a passion.

What becomes clear soon enough is that the film is also about the pandemic, and vaccine resistance, and the tendency in American society for issues that have nothing to do with politics to become hopelessly political.

“Don’t Look Up” sees McKay (“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “Talladega Nights”) returning to comedy after turning to darker, political themes in “The Big Short,” about the 2008 financial crisis, and “Vice,” his Dick Cheney biopic.

As those last two films showed, McKay’s filmmaking can be dazzling, brainy and so fast-moving that one had better not sneeze for even a moment. The material is less dense here — the utter simplicity of a comet headed toward Earth is the whole point, really — and nobody suddenly launches into iambic pentameter, as Christian Bale and Amy Adams memorably did in “Vice” (although come to think of it, there are actors here who’d be perfect — we have Meryl Streep and Mark Rylance, for heaven’s sake).

But while I enjoyed the mix of humor and emotion (and outright terror) — there are laugh-out-loud moments and also deeply poignant ones — some might find the tonal shifts a bit jarring. Perhaps a more valid nit to pick is that the the jampacked script doesn’t quite do all these movie stars justice. And what a group McKay has assembled: DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rylance, Jonah Hill, Timothée Chalamet, Tyler Perry, among others. Not to mention Ariana Grande, who nails her performance of a hilarious theme song.

We begin at Michigan State University, where, in a terrific pre-credits sequence, astronomy grad student Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence, feisty and funny and perfect), doing some telescope work one day, is stunned to realize she’s discovered a comet.

But when her mentor, Prof. Randall Mindy (DiCaprio, toning down his charisma to portray a nerdy academic prone to panic attacks), does some calculations, he can’t believe his eyes: The “planet killer” comet will hit Earth in six months.

Soon the pair are in touch with the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (a real thing), and flying to Washington to meet with the self-involved, inept and somewhat corrupt President Orlean (Streep, with 20-something hair and pointy red glasses). In the Oval Office, nobody is too worried, least of all Orlean’s insufferable son and chief of staff, Jason (an obnoxiously funny Hill, clearly improvising much of the time). Jason is particularly dubious because Randall and Kate are not Ivy Leaguers: Watch JLaw offer to show her SAT scores.

As for POTUS, who’s in the middle of a scandal with her Supreme Court nominee, she has one, impatient question: “OK, what’s the ASK here?”

The only choice is to go to the media. That doesn’t go too well either. On a popular morning show, The Daily Rip, their hosts (Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett, having lots of fun) don’t get the point either, and the message gets lost amid memes about Randall’s nerdy attractiveness and Kate’s on-air explosion (“We’re all gonna die!” she screams.)

Meanwhile, an attempted lifesaving mission onto the comet — a la “Armageddon” — encounters its own problems. And then tech billionaire Peter Isherwall gets involved. Rylance, masterful at playing strange types, has perhaps never looked or sounded quite this weird, with his perfect hair and too-white teeth. Through this not-quite-developed character, McKay conveys his obvious disdain for the billionaires currently cavorting in space.

Then there are the conspiracy theorists. Their slogan? You guessed it: “DON’T LOOK UP.”

Finally comes the “Network” moment — the moment we’ll see in DiCaprio’s awards clip, when he breaks down on television to tell the world his own, updated version of the famous “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” speech.

If much of the movie is played for laughs, this part clearly isn’t. Nor is the stunning moment when Randall looks at the sky and finally sees the comet — terrifying but also beautiful. At these moments, and the quiet ones where McKay cuts away for lovely shots of wildlife, the film arguably works best: cutting through the clutter and showing what’s really at stake.

“Don’t Look Up,” a Netflix release, has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for language throughout, some sexual content, graphic nudity and drug content.” Running time: 145 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

RELATED

NEW YORK (AP) — A comet must have landed at the 2024 Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Top Stories

Columnists

A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.

Video

1 of 2 Abducted Louisiana Children is Found Dead in Mississippi after Their Mother is Killed

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Louisiana woman was found dead in her home Thursday, and her two young daughters were abducted and found hours later in Mississippi — one dead and the other alive, police said.

ATHENS – Acknowledging disappointing results in the European Parliament elections for New Democracy, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said there won’t be early elections in Greece and dismissed any idea of taking New Democracy further right.

NEW YORK – This year, Leros New York is the standout team in the Premier Division of the Long Island Soccer Football League (LISFL) – and beyond.

ROME - There were multiple triumphs for Greece this week at at the European Athletics Championships in Rome.

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The Spanish team for men's soccer at the Paris Olympics got permission Thursday from the IOC to select two players who previously played for other countries.

Enter your email address to subscribe

Provide your email address to subscribe. For e.g. [email protected]

You may unsubscribe at any time using the link in our newsletter.