‘Don’t Look Up’ attempts satire, nearly misses

photo of Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio
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Grade: 3.5/5.0

Netflix’s “Don’t Look Up” is a star-studded, three-hour-long satire of epic budgetary proportions. The film’s director, writer and producer, Adam McKay, tells a what-if science fiction story detailing what happens when a comet is scheduled to hit Earth in six months, destroying the world as it’s known. 

Scientists Kate Dibiasky and Randall Mindy, played by actors Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, begin the film with the startling discovery of Earth’s impending doom. Lawrence and DiCaprio are endearing in their roles — their sincerity and genuine concern for the environment and the future of the human race serves as a nice foundation for the film. Kate and Randall each try their best to fight off existing, corrupt systems and pass their message on to the public. Their respective character evolutions are cleverly constructed. To the surprise of their media team, Kate is reduced to a caricature and a meme online, leading her to renounce her public life. Randall, on the other hand, becomes an internet superstar and quickly loses sight of his message while pursuing fame. McKay’s dark, cynical commentary about the state of the press and news today is among the more subtly explored themes of the film.

“Don’t Look Up” missteps its satire when it explores the ways in which the government and other institutions react to the two scientists. Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill respectively play a narcissistic president and her incompetent son, who also happens to be her chief of staff. While their response to Kate and Randall is entertaining, the stagnant bureaucracy, inefficiency and downright ignorance of the government feels too close to reality to be considered artistic irony or satire. The parallels between the film and the current political landscape are certainly on the nose; ill-suited government leaders make light of crucial decisions and mass political rallies are staged like those held during the height of the pandemic. Perhaps the most obvious parallel drawn between the film and our current world is the all-seeing, all-powerful tech billionaire that runs the show from the sidelines. 

While these parallels provide for enjoyable entertainment and allow audiences to point at their screens and make note of familiar scenarios, they don’t leave much to the imagination. Though “Don’t Look Up” attempts to satirize the current world, its heavy inspiration from contemporary politics fails to add nuance to its critique. Perhaps the film would have been better suited if it looked beyond modern politics and invented newer, more outrageous stories of political and corporate misgovernance. 

Despite these pitfalls, it is a joy to watch great actors interact with each other on screen. In their supporting roles, enthralling actors Timothée Chalamet and Cate Blanchett are constant bursts of comic relief. They fit within the film’s over-the-top premise and their romances with Kate and Randall, respectively, are unexpected yet certainly entertaining. Yule (Chalamet) is fantastic at providing a softer, more youthful balance to Kate’s tough exterior, while Brie (Blanchett) is terrific as a superficial, status-obsessed force that slows Randall down. The film even features a cameo from popular Grammy-Award-winning artist Ariana Grande, who performs at a benefit concert to educate masses about the comet. 

The film is delightfully comedic, weaving together elements of romance and comfort even in its darkest moments. Despite trifling its tone, the film’s core narrative is effective and solid enough for an audience to inevitably root for its mishmash group of heroes. 

“Don’t Look Up” is an entertaining watch, but its catch arises when it attempts to analyze and critique multiple complex realities. In criticizing social media, government inefficiency, plain bureaucracy and the inherent flaws of the human condition, the film ultimately does not live up to its lofty satirical ideals. “Don’t Look Up” both struggles and benefits from its ambitious goals; while the film could have delivered had it slightly narrowed its focus, it ultimately falls short.

Contact Megha Ganapathy at [email protected].