Adam McKay's Don't Look Up Is Ridiculous, Smart and Real

Don’t Look Up is equally absurd as it is funny, which is right up director Adam McKay’s wheelhouse. The film, starring high-profile stars including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeniffer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill and more, uses comedy to subtly deliver commentary on the political and sociological nature of modern America’s culture when facing any potential threat to humanity. Following DiCaprio and Lawrence as two scientists with knowledge of a comet’s arrival which heralds the end of all life on the planet, the film follows their struggles in trying to convince the world of its danger, only to not be taken seriously by almost any facet of society.

The film was released earlier this week on Netflix, right on the onset of a new variant of the Covid-19 virus, which only makes it even more hard-hitting considering the media circus regarding the pandemic in the last 24 months.

Adam McKay’s filmography has always dabbled in the absurd within the realm of possibility, with recent projects such as The Big Short and Vice capturing more of the real world. Don’t Look Up is a great mix of both, being utterly ridiculous in a believable way. While the film never mentions it explicitly, it does appear at times to be a subtle jab at the Trump government and how it handled information in the US. While the main conflict of the film revolves around a world-ending asteroid, the film itself is very much interested in its effect on the American people. And why not? I’ve always envied Hollywood’s ability to laugh at itself and the culture around it. Some may see Don’t Look Up as an insult to their intelligence, but if they do, well, then they missed the point. Or maybe they were the point.

As expected, performances from both leads, DiCaprio and Lawrence, are top-notch. There are subtle nuances in DiCaprio’s Dr. Mindy that in particular remind me of Jordan Belfort from The Wolf of Wallstreet, perfectly between states of being reserved and the verge of ‘losing it’. Lawrence’s portrayal of Kate Dibiasky is the smart anchor in the story, representing the ‘realist’ that is the audience in the face of a doomsday situation. It’s absolute fun, and sometimes heartbreaking, to see how both of them react and evolve throughout the course of the story, adapting to and being moulded by the ignorant people in power around them. When all else fails, why care? That becomes the central point of our protagonists' motivations in the film’s second half where McKay carefully, and rightfully so, chooses to focus more on the personal experiences over the stupid shenanigans of the authorities.

Jonah Hill has proven himself to be a comedic gold with standout performances in Wolf of Wall Street and the 21 Jump Street franchise, so it’s no surprise to see him not miss a beat here. His unexpected pairing with Meryl Streep as the Presidential mom and son takes a moment to get used to, but when you do it’s magical. The inspirations for both of these caricatures are easy to see but, for the uninitiated, it may be hard to read what exactly the actors are going for. Rounding out the supporting cast are Cate Blanchett, Timothee Chalamet (appearing as the polar opposite of his latest lead in Dune), Mark Rylance (who just might be my favourite here), Himesh Patel, Tyler Perry, Ron Perlman and Melani Lynskeysome other surprises who I don’t want to spoil here.

Verdict

Don’t Look Up is a smart yet gloomy comedy, one whose genius can be appreciated while watching with a specific mindset. While it may not please all, and may even offend some, I for one am very pleased with McKay’s snappy style, held together expertly by editor Hank Corwin. That editing style works wonderfully for a streaming service like Netflix, which even at 138 minutes feels like a breeze.

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