A Lukewarm Defense of “Don’t Look Up”

Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” is just about as subtle as the world we live in. Which is to say, the film’s not subtle in the slightest. Some have found this lack of subtlety to be a bit grating, but for me, it mostly works.

Political satire is sometimes suited to be a bit obvious. Sometimes if it isn’t clear, a movie or a show can miss the mark and end up with fans that are getting the wrong message from the show (i.e. “South Park”). Effective satire should be clear to a large audience otherwise you fail to do what the satire is intended to do. Something with such an important message, like an allegory for climate change, needs to reach as wide an audience as possible. Might it not be helpful to make it as accessible as possible? I’m not suggesting dumbing down your writing, but if the climate metaphor comes prepackaged in a box with McKay’s wrapping paper and a Leo DiCaprio shaped bow, is that really the worst thing?

Hank Corwin’s fast and frenetic editing suited McKay’s directing in “Don’t Look Up”, this time with better results than 2018’s “Vice”, but still yet distracting. There were these split second montages of stock footage of animals, babies and cities. It was supposed to remind us of the little things we’d miss from Earth, but it’s only marginally successful in that goal and for the most part annoyed me.

As for the acting, most of the performances were fine. DiCaprio and Lawrence were great as per usual. It was frightening how easy it was for me to get angry at Jonah Hill, who has perfected playing a douchebag. Mark Rylance essentially gave the same performance he did in “Ready Player One”, only this time it actually worked. Where Rylance’s quiet mouse like movements distracted me before, it fit right in in the heightened world of the movie.

Some moments were more than a bit on the nose, like the annoying Chris Evans movie within a movie cameo. Sidebar- not that I really want to reminisce about the shitbag movie that was “Free Guy”, but that makes TWO movies to come out of 2021 to have a Chris Evans cameo that sucked. Other aspects of “Don’t Look Up”, like a completely unnecessary post credit scene with Hill’s character, just rang hollow for me. These scenes feel like “Wouldntitbecoolif” moments, moments where I could hear the giddy conversation around the writer’s table:

“Wouldn’t it be cool if Chris Evans was in the movie IN the movie!?”

No. No it wouldn’t.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a post credit scene like the superhero movies do?”

No. No it wouldn’t,

The movie was at its worst in moment’s like Evans’ scene and the BASH cellphone side-plot  because it needlessly tripled down on the meta-ness of the narrative. It almost felt like the movie was trying to get ahead of its own criticism, which is pretty lame.When the movie felt just as exasperated and confused about the world as I was (am?) feeling, that was when it was at its best. It felt like the lack of subtlety was an admission of desperation. I understand that desperation. It makes sense. I’m sure it makes sense to a lot of people living in America. I felt it watching Leo scream those unanswerable questions into the camera:

“What the hell happened to us?

How do we even talk to each other?

What have we done to ourselves?

How do we fix it?”

The movie isn’t claiming it has the correct answers to these questions, nor do I think it’s trying to take some holier-than-thou high road by asking them. It’s simply asking questions. We have to keep asking questions.

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