Written and directed by Adam McKay
Based on a story by Adam McKay and David Sirota
Music by Nicholas Britell; Cinematography by Linus Sandgren;Film Editing by Hank Corwin
With Leonardo DiCaprio (Dr. Randall Mindy), Jennifer Lawrence (Kate Dibiasky), Meryl Streep (President Orlean), Cate Blanchett (Brie Evantee), Rob Morgan (Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe), Jonah Hill (Jason Orlean), Mark Rylance (Peter Isherwell), Tyler Perry (Jack Bremmer), Timothée Chalamet (Yule), Ron Perlman (Benedict Drask), Ariana Grande (Riley Bina)
Astronomer Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a comet heading for earth. Stunned, she shares her discovery with her mentor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) who, along with other astronomers who they notify, confirm their calculations: the large comet is certainly headed for earth within several months and will, without a doubt, destroy life as we know it.
They bring their discovery to The White House where President Orlean (Meryl Streep), a fashionable and appealing chief of state – but one who watches the polls and her news profile more than she listens to the astronomers bearing urgent news – and they find themselves flummoxed by the lack of concern. Next stop, to gain attention for the seriousness of the crisis, is the news where they encounter an equally ridiculous array of responses. Drawn in by the alluring news anchor Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett), Randall Mindy begins to succumb to the system, but both he and Kate continue to see the shortening of the window to escape disaster. When things begin to turn around, in comes Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) the multi-billionaire CEO of a mega-corporation named BASH, offering to mine the precious minerals in the oncoming comet. It all develops with characteristic hysteria from there.
Adam McKay seems to have a talent for creating satire that is so close to the bone that its proximity to present situations is what is both hysterical and terrifying. He did that adeptly and robustly about the financial collapse of 2008 in The Big Short 2015). Here, easily replace the threat of the comet with the actual threat of global warming and the satire does not seem so satirical any longer. Replace stylish, foolish, vain and glamorous President Orlean and think back just a little ways to another chief executive with a blond hair obsession. And then take the President’s son and Chief of Staff, Jason (Jonah Hill) who jokes and jests his way through serious matters and the retinue of advisors to a certain recent inhabitant of high office may readily come to mind.
So, there is nothing actually so funny about any of this except that McKay manages, with this stellar cast, to play off those proximities with utter abandon and disregard for subtlety; the results are often hilarious. Simply watching Streep flash her curly blonde locks around and, with her signature smile brush away anything significant, would be enough to please. Add to that Mark Rylance’s glassy-eyed blandness as big biz emperor Isherwell, not quite a replica of any of the high tech mega-billionaires we have known and loved but equally bizarre and intoxicated with his own pseudo-visionariness, and you have an almost full set of chief executive ridiculousness. Fill that out with Jonah Hill’s smarmy Chief of Staffness, Leonardo DiCaprio’s hunky neurotic astronomer, Jennifer Lawrence’s fast-track new-wave Ph.D. student, and Cate Blanchett’s eerily inattentive but magnetic news star, and you have a league of champions that conveys McKay’s manic vision adeptly.
The satire is so obvious and direct that it is likely that the joke will preach to the converted. Though the joke is a good one, part of the problem in the current political age is that ridicule often becomes a replacement for dialogue. That is particularly painful when those in political leadership positions opt for that strategy. Perhaps the significance of Don’t Look Up is to point out exactly that, a job well suited for a comic filmmaker like McKay who rightly sees tragicomedy on the verge of tragedy in situations that do not seem very far from our own. It’s well worth watching for both a laugh and a cry, maybe together.
– BADMan (aka Charles Munitz)