Don’t Look Up Is a Smug Satire About the End of the World: Review

Adam McKay's latest is a thunderingly unsubtle satire about the end of the world (and our disinterest in doing anything about it)

Don't Look Up (Netflix)

The Pitch: What would happen if you found out the world was ending and — get this — no one in power was going to do anything about it? That’s the discovery that Michigan State astronomers Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) make, right after scoping out a nine-kilometer comet that’s about to slam into the Earth in six months’ time. Their entreaties to the aloof President of the United States (Meryl Streep) and her sycophantic failson Chief of Staff (Jonah Hill) fall on deaf ears; they’ll cling to even the .01% chance the two Midwestern hayseeds are wrong.

To drum up public support for any effort to deflect the comet, Mindy and Dibiasky go on a whirlwind media tour that takes them from the smug, peppy cohosts of a morning talk show called the Daily Rip (Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett) to a benefit concert featuring a pair of vapid pop stars played by Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi. But they’ll soon learn what happens when the panicked desperation of the sincere meets the willful ignorance of a public who’d rather keep track of celebrity breakups than the end of the world. Gee, where have we heard that one before?

The “The Other Guys” Guy: Adam McKay has had a curious career as a filmmaker, almost the opposite tack as his fellow Frat Pack-adjacent colleague David Gordon Green. Where Green started as a dramatic filmmaker who shifted to a close association with Danny McBride, McKay kicked off his career as an SNL writer, and later spun that collaboration into hit comedy after hit comedy with former best friend Will Ferrell (we hope those two kids make up soon).

But a few years ago, McKay got bit by the political bug, and his films since — 2015’s The Big Short, 2018’s Vice — have been broad, nasty social satires that pinball wildly between nihilistic comedy and Occupy Democrats-level centrist screeds.

It’s a tradition that continues, though in different form, in his latest, 2021’s Don’t Look Up, a film that so desperately wants to be Network (right down to late-film Howard Beale tirades) but just ends up feeling like a big-budget Twitter thread made manifest. Granted, it’s better than the self-satisfied Vice by a huge margin, but it still doesn’t excuse the sanded-down Southland Tales we’ve been given here.


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