The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky, a Michigan State University astronomy student who discovers a previously unknown comet just inside of Jupiter’s orbit through a telescope. Her professor, Dr Randall Mindy, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, calculates that it will impact Earth in about six months and is large enough to cause a planet-wide extinction event, which NASA internally confirms.
In a hurried state of panic, the pair accompany NASA’s Planetary Defense head Teddy Oglethorpe to present their findings to the White House but are met with apathy from President Janie Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, and her son, Chief of Staff Jason, played by Jonah Hill.
The pair decide to fight back by leaking the news live on a morning talk show, but this only gains widespread mockery, as people online deny the doomsday prophecy.
After a sex scandal rocks the white house, the Trump-Esque (or populist-style?) President Orlean decides to use the impending threat as a diversion, stating that the asteroid is real and announcing a mission to take it out before impact, ala every planetary disaster film you have ever seen.
However, moments before take-off, the mission is aborted, thanks to the influence of tech billionaire Peter Irsherwell, played fantastically by Mark Rylance. He announces to a group meeting in the Whitehouse that the asteroid contains rare minerals worth billions of dollars. His company has devised a plan to send automated robots up to explore and mine the minerals, launching a new wave of prosperity for the US economy.
This narrative is vehemently opposed by Mindy and Dibiasky, who try to fight back, only to be silenced by the administration. Mindy decides to try and fight from within, whilst Dibiasky chooses to withdraw into obscurity.
The battle lines are drawn across social media between those warning of impending doom and those who deny the asteroid’s existence. Where have we seen this before?
It culminates in the slogans “Just Look Up” and “Don’t Look Up”, each rallying cry adopted by either of two fiercely loyal camps, with the President’s supporters holding Don’t Look Up rallies, fighting against the “establishment”. When other fight back campaigns, including nuclear launches from other nations like China, India and Russia, all fail, the doomsday scenario seems imminent.
All hope rests on the mission from Isherwell’s company BASH, and his crazy plan of sending robots up to the asteroid. But, ultimately, this plan goes wrong, too, leaving everyone with the realisation that humanity is doomed.
Don’t Look Up is a hilarious razor-sharp satire on the current state of the political sphere, especially in the United States. The film has obviously divided opinions amongst viewers specifically for this reason. This film clearly criticises many of a certain political persuasion, and these people obviously do not want to be made fun of. Their reaction to the film has been negative, skewing online opinion.
A clear attack at denial and populist politics, the film throws many grenades at different targets, skewering its marks with forceful and obvious attacks. There is valid criticism here, though, as perhaps the film tries to go after too many demographics, it loses its point a little bit in being so forceful. The subtlety is lost.
But in true Adam McKay style, this is a refreshing and modern film and a worthy entry into his catalogue. It is not as dark as something like Vice (2018) and not as cutting as The Big Short (2015), which is, in my opinion, his best film to date. However, Don’t Look Up certainly adds to his eclectic filmography.
Maybe McKay’s robust style is not for everyone, but for me, the quick-paced, montage edits that dictate the style are exactly my cup of tea. There are a few aspects missing here, like his usual fourth-wall-breaking speeches, but most of his familiar techniques are present.
He has tackled another fascinating subject with a fantastic ensemble cast, with particular mentions having to be made for the superb performances of Mark Rylance as the creepy billionaire and the hilarious moments from Jonah Hill as the Don Jnr style idiot son.
The most disappointing performance for me came from Timothee Chalamet, one of my favourite young actors. Not for his performance, but the writing of this particular character felt shoe-horned and unnecessary.
Overall, I think the film is strong, and I am always excited to see what topic McKay tackles next.
Well, that’s our review of Don’t Look Up.
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