FlixChatter Review: DON’T LOOK UP (2021)

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In the climate we live in today, with global warming, political unrest AND pandemic wreaking havoc practically everywhere, do we need an apocalyptic movie about an extinction level event? I actually have been avoiding depressing apocalyptic movies these days, though sometimes I’m curious to see something because of the cast. Well, Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up is as starry as it gets.

We’ve got Leonardo DiCaprio as an astronomy professor Dr. Randall Mindy and Jennifer Lawrence as grad student Kate Dibiasky who discovered a huge comet the size of mount Everest (deemed the planet killer). The scariest part is that the comet is hurtling towards earth at such velocity that humanity only has mere 6 months to deflect it or we’d all be blown to smithereens. It’s a topic that hits uncomfortably too close to home, not just in terms of how divided out nation is in terms of the environment, but also in regards to the pandemic. The ‘sit tight and asses’ approach and then later using ‘don’t look up’ as a campaign slogan are so absurd yet sadly not-so-outlandish given Trump’s initial reaction to Covid.

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McKay’s script hits a few nerves, especially in terms of the growing rise of scary misinformation that’s gotten more and more out of control to the point of humanity survival’s self-sabotage. Now, even if one agrees with every point he’s making here, it doesn’t mean the film is automatically an enjoyable one. I think even a small dose of nuance would’ve worked in its favor, but then again, subtlety and restraint have not been McKay’s biggest strength.

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There were a few laugh-out-loud moments, many of them involving Leo’s character. But for the most part, it tries too hard to be funny as a lot of the jokes don’t land. Some are so way over the top it felt like I was watching an experimental variety show sketch written by interns. Besides, impending doom isn’t exactly funny business, so even when I was laughing, there’s always that nagging unsettling feeling. 

My biggest issue is how McKay writes his characters. Regardless of which side they’re on, they are borderline caricatures that none actually has a semblance of a relatable human being. Leo and Jen are the face of the ‘sane, intelligent humans’ who trust science and use crucial findings to help save humanity. While Meryl Streep as president Orlean and Jonah Hill as her chief of staff son Jason are basically Trump-inspired buffoons who can’t get their heads out of their @$$es long enough to face anything, no matter how dire, if it does not fit their agenda. Jason is definitely modeled after Eric Trump and his character is stupendously irritating.

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The film sure has star power though I can’t say it amounts any of the stars’ best work. Leo and Jen fare better here and McKay allow each of them to shine, which in this case equals to having a moment of ‘going completely berserk.’ This is Lawrence’s first big movie after a few years hiatus and her character reminds me a bit of her role in Silver Lining’s Playbook. 

Meryl and Jonah’s characters are meant to make viewers angry at their blatant ignorance and banality, so in that sense they succeeded. There are moments where I just want to throw stuff at my TV every time Orleans and Jason are talking. Same with the two morning show hosts (Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry) with their trivial feel-good programming. The moment Dr. Mindy just completely lost it during live TV is definitely a highlight here (it must be in Leo’s contract to have at least one freak out scene in his films).

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The most bizarre acting is courtesy of Mark Rylance who admittedly is quite inspired casting as Peter Isherwell, an amalgamation of all of the tech billionaires Jobs/Musk/Bezos combined. Rylance is a brilliant actor and while I understand his character is meant to be peculiar, it was so off-the-wall that it was cringe-worthy. But perhaps Rylance is the only actor in this ensemble who understood the assignment so well that he was actually satirizing his own character.

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The great Cate Blanchett is reduced to playing a variation of Fox News-type, sexy blond anchor. I usually love seeing Cate playing unsympathetic characters but not when her role is stripped off wit nor any kind of charm. Character actors Rob Morgan and Melanie Lynskey have a brief but memorable turns as a NASA official and Leo’s stay-at-home-mom wife, respectively, while Timothée Chalamet plays a skater boy who’s raised as an Evangelical Christian who hasn’t turned away from his faith. The praying scene towards the end is perhaps McKay’s blunt jab against a popular poll findings that even non-believers turn to prayer in the face of death.

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Most doomsday/apocalyptic movies, even the most clichéd-ridden and bombastic ones, still show a slice of humanity’s triumph against adversity. McKay on the other hand, seems to have a very pessimistic view of people as a whole. He deliberately aims for a gloom and doom approach here with no room for even a sliver of hope. As it the whole thing weren’t depressing enough, we’re subjected to a garish Ariana Grande‘s music video [aghast]. I actually have never listened to anything she’s done until now, but I have to give props to her for being a good sport about poking fun of her own pop-star persona.

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At 2hr18 min it’s also too bloated with a bunch of unnecessary scenes that don’t drive the story forward. The first hour was certainly promising, but it quickly became repetitive and verbose. The thing is, nobody likes to be hit over the head with anything, especially a topic so glaringly obvious. At the end of the day, the movie is just too pretentious and self-congratulatory for its own good. It also thinks most viewers lack the intellect to discern its allegory that he spoon fed us to the point of gagging. It’s a far cry from McKay’s previous work like The Big Short which is a biting satire of the financial crisis.

The characters are saying a lot on both sides, but in the end doesn’t the film really offer more insights than what most viewers already know. Though it may seem that way, Don’t Look Up is not as shrewd nor smart as it obviously think it is.

2-half Reels


Have you seen DON’T LOOK UP? Well, what did YOU think?

22 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: DON’T LOOK UP (2021)

  1. I’m probably going to watch this as I do like Adam McKay although I’m fully aware that the film is a mess as I think he is itching to be taken seriously but doesn’t really need to.

    1. McKay definitely seems to want to be regarded as a brilliant satirist but this movie is so all over the place. The cast are committed so it’s still amusing to watch.

  2. Let’s go Brandon

    Interestingly, the reviewers see all the satire being aimed at the right. I, a conservative, saw it as being aimed at everyone.
    Perhaps that is the difference between the Right and Left, we are not afraid to examine ourselves, unlike the Left who cannot tolerate scrutiny.
    The Left rarely seems to say “let’s work this out together”, but instead says “we are the smarter ones, do what we say”.
    Come to think of it, this IS a Leftist satire of the Right.
    So much for working together to save the world we all inhabit…

  3. I pretty much agree with your review here Ruth. I enjoyed the first hour of the film but then it kept hitting you over the head with our current world issues and it’s just too much. Similar to Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone, it assumes most audiences don’t understand what they’re trying to say and just kept hitting you over the head with the obvious stuff.

    “There are moments where I just want to throw stuff at my TV every time Orleans and Jason are talking.” That’s how I felt about Trump and his goons last year when they kept lying about Covid.

    1. I haven’t seen Green Zone but I remember what you said about it. Yeah, I feel like most people get what McKay is trying to say so being bludgeoned over the head w/ it is insulting!

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  5. Randomengineer de Leather

    The film is aimed at the crowd who reckons they’re intellectually superior to trump voters. For a satire to be effective it needs to be universal, even if it comes from a left or right point of view. Done correctly, both liberal and conservative viewers will see fundamental truths about the human condition. Idiocracy was such a film, skewering left and right politics and beliefs with abandon. This film? It’s solely for the kind of people who regard Samantha Bee as funny or wise. It’s aimed at progressives and hits all of the progressive beats. Yes, liberals, we all know you’re wicked smart and better than the conservatives. Whatever. And given that this is clearly activist allegory for a narrow POV about climate change, how about you wicked smart types conjure up a film that shows how to motivate and energize 40% of the planet’s population (India/China) to be on your side? Or do we get subjected to another “conservatives are so dumb” film?

    1. Hello, thanks for your comment! I agree with your point that an effective satire is one that’s more universal. At the same time it IS a non-fiction narrative, not a documentary, so I expect that the director, in this case McKay to assert his liberal POV. When it comes to climate change, I do agree that we humans should do better in taking care of our planet, so essentially I agree with what he’s trying to say, my issue is more about the way he communicates it repeatedly and treating viewers like we’re so stupid. In any case, I generally avoid things that are too politically-charged as it always becomes us vs them situation that is of course divisive in nature.

  6. Ashlea Perez

    I tried to ignore the political statements in this movie, because I really just wanted to watch and enjoy. But I didn’t enjoy ha. The first half I was like this might be interesting. And then… I got bored. It was weird and kind of like a train wreck I couldn’t look away from. When I first saw the preview I thought it would be more straight comedy and less satire.

    Ash @ Essentially Ash

  7. George vs Potter

    I watched for the cast. Strangely the most powerful scene is the tech billionaire speech that Leo is going to die alone because he is nothing more than a field mouse. That is the slap in the face truth about the way people in power think about the common person. We are cattle to the powerful just as George Bailey described Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life and that movie is more than 50 years old. It also reminds me of a bible story where the poor person gives two of three pennies she has while the rich person gives much more but it is not even a drop in the bucket in regard to his wealth. Then we are asked who gave more? Humanity has its flaws but it also has it’s strengths. Humanity will fail when those people in power ignore what is good for all people and instead choosing what is benefiting themselves.

    1. Interesting observation there about the billionaire Isherwell’s similarities to Mr. Potter. It may seem as if the rich guy ‘survived’ the calamity as he has a space ship outfitted for the ultra rich to take them to another planet, but in the end it’s a futile attempt to cheat death.

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    1. Hi Andie, I enjoyed parts of it and the cast were good overall. I even applaud McKay’s general vision, it’s just the execution that I have issues with.

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