“Don’t Look Up” Review: Satire Scattershot from Netflix


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Late in the unwieldy end-of-day satire of “Don’t Look Up,” writer-director Adam McKay briefly puts aside the easy snark and wide targets and hits a note of wonder. It pretty much hits it. A huge comet has appeared in the night sky, finally visible to the naked eye after spending months heading toward Earth. It’s a terrifying but also sublime sight, a vision of an inexorably approaching fate that – with the help of a tear-eyed Leonardo DiCaprio and a beautifully choppy score of “Succession’s” Nicholas Britell – cannot be made. prevent arousing a collective sense of wonder.

A moment like this opposes the social malaise diagnosed in “Don’t Look Up”, a semi-sweet, mostly sour comic dispatch from a world where wonder is for dummies and unity. collective is a joke. A pre-apocalyptic satire on mass media cynicism, political cronyism, Big Tech corruption, American stupidity in general and everything McKay and his co-writer, David Sirota, can squeeze into their fish barrel Crowded, the film is also its own built-in concept genre collision, which we could describe as Armageddon Iannucci. We’re rocked by an end-of-day blockbuster like “Deep Impact” (arthouse enthusiasts can cast “Melancholia”), but also caught up in a behind-the-scenes realpolitik farce like “Dr. Strangelove” or “In” the Loop “.

These are intimidating inspirations in the service of a reasonably inspired premise. It begins with Michigan State PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) scanning the skies and making a startling astronomical discovery. Comet Dibiasky, as it will be called, is heading towards Earth and will have an impact in just over six months; Since the comet is about 5-10 kilometers wide, it is referred to as a “planet killer,” an extinction-level event that is waiting to occur. Dibiasky and his nervous mentor Dr Randall Mindy (DiCaprio) report their findings to NASA and are quickly transported to the White House, where their shock, pride and anxiety at being the bearers of such bad news are quickly derailed by their disbelief in the face of the corruption and incompetence that awaits them.

McKay and Sirota, journalist and former advisor / speechwriter for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign, serve up an assortment of satirical shots drawn from political rubbish from the past four years and beyond: Oval Office nepotism, Supreme Court pick without reserve, mid-term election anxieties, photoshoots in the war room, sex scandals. The president, Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), is a hack and jester surrounded by many, none more venomous than her high-ranking son, Jason (Jonah Hill in relentless insult-comic mode). She wastes no time in downplaying, trivializing, and even completely ignoring the scientists’ findings, dismissing them as the last of many exaggerated apocalyptic proclamations to cross her office.

Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry in the movie “Don’t Look Up”.

(Niko Tavernise / Netflix)

These scenes would be funnier if they were written more incisively (or at least more intelligently improvised), and also if the film seemed to actively criticize rather than just embody the laziness of its targets. (Streep, who played a sharper politician in “The Manchurian Candidate” and a nicer Orleans in “Adaptation,” is here reduced to smirking reaction shots in a rare silly trick.) They’d also be funnier if he did. There wasn’t too much depressing real-world evidence to support the film’s depressing conclusions.

What if the world ends and no one cares, including most of the people in a position to do something about it? It was more or less the decades-long history of climate change that provided the initial impetus for McKay’s satire (and surely helped spark DiCaprio’s interest). But that allegorical dimension has since been temporarily overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, whose widespread disinformation campaigns have caused hundreds of thousands of unnecessary and preventable human deaths.

The comet’s death toll appears to run into the billions of course, prompting Dibiasky and Mindy to ignore the president’s confidentiality orders and make their history public. But the news and entertainment media, just like the government they are supposed to cover and criticize, turn out to be no longer interested in the substance of what scientists have to say. Well-matched Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry embody a few morning talk show chuckles that inadvertently turn our heroes into celebrities, albeit markedly different. While Mindy’s charming awkwardness quickly makes him America’s sexiest scientist (tied with a young Dr. Fauci), Dibiasky’s on-air fusion makes her an instant ridiculous figure – the goal of Dibiasky. ‘a joke shared by millions of happy consumers who prefer meme and hashtag as Rome burns down.

There is an obvious tension of sexism in the way Mindy and Dibiasky are received, and “Don’t Look Up”, again, has a way of subtly reinforcing what it pointedly calls out. The two lead cast have geared up to play a few Midwestern nerds: DiCaprio with plaid shirts and a thick beard, Lawrence with auburn dye job and nose piercings. But there is something revealing (and selectively flattering) about the way Mindy is written as a thirsty object of Insta, threatening her marriage (to a wonderful Melanie Lynskey), while Dibiasky is referred to as things like “Boy With” the Dragon Tattoo “. (OK, I laughed, but I winced.) It’s as revealing as when Mindy has her own on-air meltdown in Act 2, reaching a real Peter-Finch-in “Network” moment, it’s played for gravitas rather than ridiculous.

I mention this because the unequal treatment of the sexes is hardly incidental to McKay’s project (or, for that matter, his previous films, from the comedic heights of “Anchorman” and “Step Brothers” to the aggressive topical genres of “The Big Short” and “Vice.”) It provides “Don’t Look Up” with a satirical thrust, a narrative drive, and an overall feel as fine and patchy as the one that separates us from all those Earth-bound projectiles. The film also tries to restore the balance, thanks in part to Streep’s bland Commander-in-Chief of Trumpy, and more successfully via Blanchett’s anchor Mika Brzezinski, who hides his own awe-inspiring intellect behind a mega-watt-ready smile. to work.

A man and a woman stare at their cell phones.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence in the movie “Don’t Look Up”.

(Niko Tavernise / Netflix)

It also helps that DiCaprio and Lawrence have a strong duo chemistry, forging an emotional bond born out of mutual respect and serious intellectual credentials. (Lawrence gets a particularly juicy comic that I’m not going to spoil except to say that she sneaks up a bit more and kills a bit harder each time.) And you can’t help but feel for Mindy and Dibiasky. , who are the canaries in the coal mine of the end of capitalism in this film, two faulty cogs in the mind-numbing machine that our 21st century society has become. Their biggest enemy isn’t so much the President as a tech visionary Orwellian billionaire (Mark Rylance), who dreams of world domination and gives off an obvious whiff of Bezos, Branson and Musk.

Rylance, as always, has her moments. But his character, despite the terrifyingly white teeth, illustrates the fundamental edgyness of a satire whose targets are somehow too specific to sound imaginative but also too vague to deliver a real blow. It’s not just McKay and Sirota’s fault. Watching “Don’t Look Up”, with its mix of occasional big laughs (Ariana Grande’s number legitimately kills) and scattered non-sequences, I couldn’t help but fear for long viability. term of Hollywood media and political satire as a genre.

Nothing in the silliness and outrage of what the film shows us – no matter how nervous McKay’s editor Hank Corwin, virtuosously sliced ​​and diced, really can compete with the horrors of our own. American idiocracy in the real world. (But speaking of which: Would it have killed the movie to define the world as something bigger than the United States of America?)

In “Don’t Look Up,” the evil is ultimately too commonplace to be funny (although, as one character aptly points out, “they’re not even smart enough to be as evil as you attribute to them”). Kindness, however, can always generate a shockwave, and the best times here argue for redemptive little acts of decency in the face of the unthinkable. I wish NASA expert Rob Morgan had more to do here than silently despise all the inanity swirling around him. Nor would I have thought of Timothée Chalamet as a sweet and sincere Christian skateboarder who finds his way into Dibiasky’s life. He arrives late but you are still grateful; he makes the end all the more a mercy.

“Do not look upwards”

Evaluation: R, for language throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug content

Duration of operation: 2 hours 18 minutes

Playing: Starts December 10 in general version; available December 24 on Netflix


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