Netflix is clearly willing to throw cash at Hollywood’s finest, which might lead some to expect a smattering of cashing-a-check performances. “Don’t Look Up” (2021), written and directed by Adam McKay, boasts an impressive collection of on-screen talent that seems to be more and more characteristic of Netflix originals with each passing year.
This cast, though, does not pay off exclusively in name value, as nearly everyone does an excellent job here (more on specific performances below). And while “Don’t Look Up” will not garner nearly the same respect as some of its predecessors in the streaming-service-movie production game, this movie is still a semi-enjoyable, laugh-cry-inducing experience.
The Length: Too Long
It’s not perfect. “Don’t Look Up” is about 30 to 45 minutes too long, and I stopped caring about this movie right around the same time I think McKay likely thought to himself, “I’ve really hammered home the idea that the government is irresponsible and this prolonged metaphor about climate change denial is crystal clear, so let me triple down on the absurd, half-baked references and not-based-on-any-persons-living-or-dead-style character arc creation!” Either McKay went a little too far with this concept or he thinks everyone is truly as delightfully ignorant of what they are watching unfold in front of them as Meryl Streep’s Donna Trump, or President Orlean, who cares?
The Acting: Not disastrous
That all being said, there are some great performances in this movie, almost all of which accomplished the same apparent goal of making me hate them an irrational amount. Streep kills it here; her tone and inflection serve to remind us just how talented she is, without even needing to see her physical acting, although she does an excellent job on that front as well. She also served my favorite line of the movie, “God, and I, thank you.” C’mon. That’s so good.
I loved my hatred of Jonah Hill’s Jason, who acts as some sort of twisted Ivanka + Mike Pence amalgamation. He personifies smarm here really nicely. Similar, Ron Perlman playing Guy From A Different Time was another surprising hilarity.
My biggest complaint about this movie, though, is that in blurring the line between satire and predicting the future, McKay’s tone becomes wildly inconsistent. Initially, this movie takes itself super seriously, hitting most of its shots against our social media-influenced news cycle and the strain we put on our scientific community in the interest of palatability to a broader audience. McKay somehow got me to believe that he was intentional, and deftly subtle, in the casual sexism flung at Jennifer Lawrence’s Kate Diabiasky during her foray into U.S. politics.
He began to lose me, however, in turning to buzz words and familiarity to drive the middle of the film. Stop me if you’ve heard any of this stuff before: plagiarism in the oval office, presidential preening and sex scandals between weird old people. It is just a little too on-the-nose. Although I absolutely love the -ilf-ification that happens as soon as Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dr. Randall Mindy hits the airwaves opposite Cate Blanchett’s pure evil Brie Evantee.
This movie also suffered from a little too much realism on the grounds of everyone being heavily flawed. It can be very challenging to root for DiCaprio through an affair and into the film’s second-worst justifying of a couple getting back together post-cheating on the grounds that the women in the relationship had already cheated on the men earlier in the relationship. Can you believe that this movie has time, space, and the approval for that storyline to happen once? And if that isn’t crazy enough, it happened twice.
Once DiCaprio drinks the Apple-branded Kool-Aid, this movie started to convince me that the burning desire inside of me to turn this OFF was intentional and that McKay’s magnum opus is not 2008’s “The Other Guys” like I had previously concluded, but rather “Don’t Look Up.”
This feeling, however, was quickly replaced with a thought of, “oh nevermind, turns out McKay is just swinging as hard as he can at a pretty big piñata, it was inevitable that a few blows would land.” What did it for me was the prolonged sequence of the Jeff Bezos/Bill Gates/Tim Cook guy using algorithms to science roast DiCaprio. So dumb.
Especially because, all of a sudden, this movie does everything in its power to re-capture the emotional weight of the first act, evoking memories of the January 6th insurrections as well as an overwhelming realization that, OF COURSE, this movie needs to kill everyone!
McKay is especially cruel to Rob Morgan’s Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe, who is the film’s only character that doesn’t fundamentally deserve to be eviscerated, forcing Morgan to not only die amongst relative strangers but to be the first known (to the audience) victim of an issue that he was the greatest fighter against. Not particularly fair.
Changing directions entirely, I wonder if Himesh Patel will now only be cast in apocalypse-esque roles, with his two big roles of the year coming in this subspace? I will say, for fans of his, just go watch a couple of episodes of “Station Eleven” or re-watch “Yesterday.” Patel is given criminally little to do here, and his performance left me wishing he’d been cast as Dr. Mindy instead of DiCaprio. Mark my words, the Patel-assaince is coming.
Anyways, “Don’t Look Up” is a fun use of an hour and 15 minutes. The problem is that it is 2 hours and 18 minutes. Do with that information what you will.
The positive spin for this movie is that McKay is responsible enough in his storytelling to accurately portray the challenges that face our global society these days in a way that sets clear villains and makes it hard to justify the actions of our politicians. Unfortunately, however, McKay also treats the audience like children, who, for some reason, first need to be taught to chew before being spoon-fed a soup of really obvious and not-super-clever metaphors.
I will give “Don’t Look Up” a solid C+, earning most of its points from its hilarious, albeit painfully accurate dialogue and surprisingly nice visuals, while taking major hits from its inconsistent themes and absurd runtime.
Did you think the movie was a disaster? A masterpiece? Will it motivate you to rise beyond climate despair? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!