Sunday December 26, 2021
Movie Review: Don't Look Up (2021)
“Some say the world will end in fire,” Robert Frost wrote, “Some say in ice.” Adam McKay chimes in, “Hey, how about stupidity?”
I’m kind of with McKay on this one.
“Don’t Look Up” is McKay’s “Dr. Strangelove,” an absurdist satire on the ways we might bring the great wheel to a crashing end. The A-bomb is old news by now. McKay, writing and directing from a story from left-wing politico David Sirota, posits stupid people watching stupid shows and electing stupid politicians who are bankrolled by stupid CEOs. And a comet runs right through us.
Like humanity, the movie is good for a time.
It’s you that I lie with
A Michigan grad student and her professor, Kate Dibiasky and Dr. Randall Mindy (Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio), discover a new/old comet, celebrate for a moment, plot its trajectory, then realize it’s heading straight for Earth. It’s the size of Mount Everest, will arrive in 6+ months, and end all life on the planet. It’s that old plot, but with no Bruce Willis or even a Ben Affleck in sight.
Our astronomers try to get the message out but can't bust through layers of irrelevance. The head of NASA, for example, is a political appointee who knows nothing of space or comets and doesn’t sense the danger. And even when they do get an audience with President Orlean (Meryl Streep), she’s more concerned with SCOTUS appointments and upcoming midterms. Plus she’s an idiot, too—closer to Sarah Palin than Hillary Clinton.
So our heroes head to the press. Surely a Woodward or Bernstein will help. But somehow they wind up on “The Daily Rip,” and only “The Daily Rip,” a chirpy morning or afternoon show (I can’t tell), where they are the final guests, upstaged by the break-up/reconciliation of pop stars Riley Bina and DJ Chello (Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi), and where Dr. Mindy’s overly scientific approach has trouble getting past the effusive upbeatness of the hosts, Brie Evantee and Jack Bremmer (Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry). So Kate angrily blurts it all out: “We are all 100% for sure gonna fucking die!” she screams. Even this doesn’t work. She becomes a meme, mocked on social media, while Dr. Mindy is celebrated but not for his intellect. “Meooow. Me likey hunky Star Man,” tweets @Vegan*Babe. That one made me laugh out loud. At this point, I was thinking, “Why is this getting mixed reviews? It’s pretty spot-on.”
I think, at two hours, 18 minutes, it just goes on too long—again, like us—and some subplots don’t hit. Both astronomers lose focus. Dr. Mindy gets swept up in it all and has an affair with Brie, while Kate becomes so ostracized she leaves academia and winds up as a cashier at a kwiki-mart type place, where she meets some skateboarders and begins a relationship with Yule (Timothée Chalamet). Sure. But who cares? And why the fuck would you work customer service when you know the world is ending in two months? Has Adam McKay ever worked customer service before? That’s the last thing you’d do.
Meanwhile, Pres. Orlean finally takes notice, confirms the data with Ivy Leaguers, and launches a rocket’s red glare assault on the meteor led by the super-macho, overly racist Benedict Drask (Ron Perlman). But this plan is aborted when tech billionaire Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) informs the president that the minerals in the comet are worth trillions. So they attempt to break it apart by mining it. (I think.) Dr. Mindy finally comes out of his fog to lead the scientific community, admonishing the world to “look up,” while Pres. Orlean tells her nutjob base the opposite: “Don’t look up!” she says, giving them a chant, a la “Lock her up!” and the movie its title.
It’s you I watch TV with
The look up/don’t look up thing is good, and Rylance’s on-the-spectrum tech billionaire in a million-dollar jacket is brilliant. But the rest of the movie? A bit obvious, or a bit much, or beside-the-point. Isherwell’s plan fails, the world braces for its end. What would you do if you knew everything was about to end? The rich and powerful get on a transport to another planet, but Dr. Mindy turns this down to reconcile with his wife. That’s the end he chooses. He and his family, and Kate and Yule, along with a sympathetic government man (Rob Morgan), have a last meal and prayer around the dining table. Sure. I liked Jack and Brie’s final moments better. He asks if she wants to fuck but she decides she’d rather just drink and dish dirt about people. Great line.
Oh, and the epilogue on the other planet, where Pres. Orlean finally gets hers? Nah. I wanted to see these people die, but that did nothing for me.
“Don’t Look Up” attempts the impossible: satirizing things that seem beyond satire (Trump, social media, et al.). And it did make me flash on that great post-9/11 Onion headline again: A SHATTERED NATION LONGS TO CARE ABOUT STUPID BULLSHIT AGAIN. This is us caring only about the stupid bullshit as the world caves in.