Start your New Year with a film about the impending doom of planet earth when an extinction level comet is headed right towards our little floating rock. The problem? Every fickle news absorbed human with their head buried in the sand. The solution? Two socially awkward scientists. 3/5
The Plot: In one of the world’s space observatories PHD student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a 9 to 10km wide unknown comet. Her elation is quickly subdued when Dr Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) calculates it is on an inevitable and unavoidable collision course with earth in 6 months time. The impact of the comet would wipe out all life on earth similar to that of the dinosaurs extinction event. Both Kate and Randall understand this, their challenge is to make the rest of the world aware. They are shocked to find that the president, news outlets and general public have little interest in what is happening, with a celebrity break-up covering the headlines instead. Don’t Look Up follows their efforts to make the public and world leaders aware and once made aware, to do the right thing and the blow the comet up or knock it off course. Bitter sweet hilarity ensues as these two socially awkward and personally flawed scientists engage with the social media absorbed public and the politicians whose own agenda gets in the way of humanities best interests.
The right balance: Don’t Look Up is an incredibly frustrating film to watch which is exactly what it wants to be. However, it is also equally as amusing and there are some genuinely funny moments as you would expect from this dark comedy. It is a film where you laugh at the tragedy and chuckle at how dire the situation is. There were moments where my head was in my hands as the president of the United States (Meryl Streep) aborts a potentially world saving operation as she finds out there is a way to make money off of the world-ending comet. The scenes where Randall and Kate are on news shows are genuinely painful at times, with the “news” hosts controlling the conversation and downplaying what accredited scientists are saying.
Yet Don’t Look Up sits in the rare number of films which makes me laugh out loud despite watching it by myself. I am a huge fan of dark comedies and the gallows humour is in abundance in this film. Randall and Kate represent the viewer in this film and offer a dose of reality which provide the majority of the laughs. Their reactions to the absurdity of the public’s docile reaction to the prediction of the end of the world are what gives this film it’s comical edge. Jonah Hill plays the president’s son and chief of staff – he plays the comical role you would expect from Jonah Hill. Whilst I am not his biggest fan I will admit his brutal interactions with Kate (Jennifer Lawrence) were amusing and have sparked some controversy as to Jonah’s method acting and being equally rude to Jennifer in-between scenes.
Best member of the cast is not who you would expect: Before I reveal who stole the show for me let me first say that Leonardo DiCaprio nailed his role as always. His portrayal of an anxious and socially awkward scientist was refreshing to see and a change from his often confident roles in Wolf of Wall Street (2013), The Revenant (2013), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), The Great Gatsby (2013) … need I go on? He still had the iconic DiCaprio screaming outbursts which we are all accustomed to and love and his outburst in this film is one of his most satisfying ones to watch as he effectively tells the US president, American public and news anchors to go f**k themselves. But he was not the standout for this film.
That accomplishment sits firmly with Sir Mark Rylance, the English actor who portrayed Peter Isherwell – a billionaire, CEO of a tech company and huge donor to the US Presidents campaign. Effectively he is a mix of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. Peter Isherwell is the most infuriating and despicable character in Don’t Look Up. Isherwell comes across as a harmless aging man, speaking in an incredibly soft tone who knows how to play his audience like a fiddle. However, deep down he is motivated by nothing more than money and power. He is behind the majority of the film’s plot twists and has an unshakable grasp on both the president and the public. Sir Rylance hits a home run with this performance, every dialogue he is given he controls and dominates whilst remaining so softly spoken you may have to turn up your volume.
A stark warning: Don’t Look Up is meant to be a film with an underlying message, it is written that way and the themes it covers are directly relatable and applicable to our current society. Director Adam McKay is not afraid of getting his message across and although at times he does ram it down the audiences throat, there are other moments which are much more subtle. Please note that after this segment I go on to look at whether this film hits the metaphor hammer a bit too much.
The most obvious message from Don’t Look Up is the impending threat of climate change on our world. The comet can be seen as one giant metaphor for the human impact on our fragile little planet. We can clearly see it happening, there is scientific data to support it and it will affect us drastically within all our lifetimes. Yet much like the world leaders in Don’t Look Up our presidents, prime ministers and supreme leaders are distracted and obsessed with how they look to the public – worried about their latest poll numbers rather than the impending doom of our planet. The news outlets just want the stories that will get our attention and are too often tabloids disguised as “news”. We’re not much better either, obsessed with social media and easily led by the media – let’s be honest, it does not take much for us to be distracted from the greatest threat we will face. Likewise, the public in Don’t Look Up either deny the comet exists or only start caring about the issue when it is simply too late. A huge supporter of climate activism, Leonardo DiCaprio is clearly hammering the climate change metaphor throughout this film. The random and short clips of nature McKay sprinkles throughout the film are brief reminders of how beautiful our planet is and adds a certain “why throw all this away?” question to the viewer.
Not so much at the forefront is the warning of the danger mega-companies and insanely rich CEO’s can have on our lives and the future of our planet. Peter Isherwell resembles all real worldly large companies in Don’t Look Up and just like real life he pretends to be the publics friend, when all he really wants is their payslips. Claiming to make our lives easier when really with each new phone, tablet or app we give away small slices of our freedoms. It is a prevalent issue in our lives, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos will try to act as if they’re your friend when they quite simply aren’t. The power Peter Isherwell has over the US President and the policies to tackle the comet is a direct warning at how mega-companies can influence how we as a world deal with global emergencies.
Finally, there is then the impossible to ignore link between the film and the COVID-19. But I think I’ve covered enough controversial topics in this review which I rarely do so I’ll let you explore that link by yourself. It’s an emotive topic and I’m in no position to comment.
Too preachy: As you may know if you read my reviews regularly, I like subtle messages through films rather than ones which are in your face all the time. It’s fair to say Don’t Look Up isn’t very subtle. It covers important topics and it’s visions and message is one of good intetion. But it can come across as self-righteous and heavily left wing. Although not directly stated the President in this film is meant to be a republican and there are direct parallels with the reign of Donald Trump. Additionally there is a jibe at police officers being fundamentally racist which just seems random and unnecessary going off topic of the film’s main message.
For a film which is trying to save the world, it unfortunately contributes to the growing polarisation of it. A polarisation which is stalling change, causing civil unrest and dominating the family dinner time conversation.
Actions speak louder than words. DiCaprio backs up his message with his many environmental initiatives he has started with money out of his own pocket. But I can’t find any climate change initiative from Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep or Adam McKay. Additionally, there seems to be no financial contribution from the film towards the fight against climate change. Maybe this will be coming later but it’s certainly not here now. In a sense this film can be easily compared to everyone’s Golden Globe or Oscar speeches where they preach to the public and viewers about global issues. These are millionaires with much more money than me or you. They can make the real change if they fork out some money. In the word’s of Ricky Gervais “You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything.”
Better than expected: All in all, Don’t Look Up was better than I thought it would be. It never aimed to be and never will be just a story film. It is a film with a message which the viewer simply can’t ignore. It’s not going to change the world and to be perfectly honest what gives DiCaprio, Lawrence and McKay the right to preach to us? Are they perfect humans? Very unlikely. But it is entertaining, far more entertaining than I thought. It is no Citizen Kane (1941) or Dr Strangelove (1964) but it is a film which will be seen by many people and it’s diamond studded cast is enjoyable to watch. The post credits scene is a bit weird mind…
To watch or not to watch: Watch.
Can I stream it: Yes – Netflix
Child friendly: No.
Can I watch this with my parents: Yes.