Don’t Look Up uses the metaphor of an incoming comet that, like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, will have life-ending consequences for most life on Earth. The story is the desperate attempt by the two scientists who discovered the comet (Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio), to get the world to understand what is happening and, at least, prepare for total destruction. The film was an instant success for Netflix and has received a solid 7.2 IMDB audience rating in just the last three months. It also received four Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. Despite all the Oscar and popular accolades, the film places at the very bottom of this year’s Oscar-nominated films as measured by the critics Metascore. So, what’s going on here?
Nick Allen, for RogerEbert.com, wrote “McKay (Adam McKay, writer, director, producer) is mightily thwarted by the larger scope of Don’t Look Up, a hybrid of his comedic and dramatic instincts that only dreams of being insightful about social media, technology, global warming, celebrity, and in general, human existence. A disastrous movie, Don’t Look Up shows McKay as the most out of touch he’s ever been with what is clever or how to get his audience to care.” Hmm. I guess I might ask: Is it McKay who’s out of touch, or did Mr. Allen just not get it?
There’s insight later in Allen’s review when he disparages the editing, which was also nominated for an Oscar. He writes “…because the movie’s editing is complicit in the short attention spans that McKay nonetheless rages against, it tends to intercut different framed pictures of Streep’s President Orlean with various celebrities or hop from one scene to another while characters are talking mid-sentence.” So Mr. Allen is essentially missing the all-crucial fact that McKay structured this movie so that it mirrors how people deal with the world in social media. How many times do people actually finish a video? How often do people actually read an article or post (or even this review) all the way to the end? Our world IS choppy—nothing segues to something else—it just terminates, usually before finishing making its point. It is Allen who doesn’t understand what’s happening, not McKay and editor Hank Corbin.
Allen, while praising the list of high-powered cast members, argues that they were “then wasted on this movie’s limited sense of humor…” But I am doubtful that any of these cast members believe their talents were “wasted.” In the first place, this film was made during the pandemic, when everything was working against a tightly cooperative group effort. But more importantly, aside from Randall (DiCaprio), Kate (Jennifer Lawrence), and Yule (Timothee Chalamet), ALL the other actors are essentially cameo appearances—they aren’t meant to have meaningful roles. In fact, that is essentially part of McKay’s message: these people in power, who might possibly have a chance of changing the doomed path our planet is on (politicians, media, celebrities) really don’t care to exercise that power. They aren’t present in the movie to any significant degree because they aren’t present in real life, either! They only appear in the film when they are totally prepared to manipulate the public sentiment in their favor.
The last sentence in Allen’s review is “McKay has filled this parable with hot air, wanting us to marvel at and then choke on its mediocre jokes.” My wife Joan and I DID laugh, frequently, at the humor in Don’t Look Up. But only when we weren’t crying. The sadness in this story is profound, because, as many of us see it, we as a people have become completely unwilling to even acknowledge the severity of life-altering situations that are coming to us from climate change. Our reluctance to acknowledge the severity of what’s coming, coupled with our engagement in totally unproductive uses of human energy (like trying to find slave children in pizza parlors or asking a judge to define “woman”) means that we, really have completely and fully embraced the idea—we are still in the mode of just Don’t Look Up. (4 *)
For more, visit MichaelsMovieMoments.com