By Chloe Williams
Don’t Look Up at Your Screen
Don’t Look Up is the third most-watched film in Netflix’s history, but does it deserve all the attention? With an all-star cast, you’d expect it to be an unquestionable hit. Adam McKay of Anchorman and Booksmart fame, directs this comedy-satire about the end of the world featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Ariana Grande, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Kid Cudi—an impressive and talented cast doing the best they can with a lackluster script and uncentered concept.
The film begins when astronomy student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) reveals to her professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) that she’s discovered a new comet. After some analysis, the two realize that the comet is headed on a collision path towards Earth, leaving civilization with only six months left to survive. They team up with a NASA department head, Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), to try and convince the world to do something about it.
The trio are met with much dismissal, but eventually scientists around the globe confirm the severity of the situation. The U.S. government then teams up with Facebook-parody company BASH, and plans to break up the comet as it falls so rare metals can be extracted for private financial gain. This is against the advice of the trio who want to knock it off-course entirely. The world becomes split between those believe in the comet and cry “just look up” versus their opposition who is convinced the comet is a hoax and challenge, “don’t look up”.
The main issue with this film is that it needs a healthy dose of kill-your-darlings. This two hour and twenty-five minute movie could have been condensed down to the length of your average popcorn flick without losing anything crucial. Instead of crafting a tight, well-oiled script, the writers left in every self-referential quip, faux-intelligent satirical comment, and cringey bit of filler. Take, for example, when Kate and Dr. Mindy first arrive at the president’s office and the audience sits with them for far too long waiting for anything to happen other than a White House employee charging them for free snacks. The moment, so buried in irrefutable nothingness, leaves the audience wondering, “wait… was that a joke?”
Further evidence of the need for another pair of eyes on the final edit of this film is Kate and Dr. Mindy’s every media appearance. Each unfortunate time, the audience is debriefed from the scene with a painful flood of out-of-touch memes. And not only are Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi’s pop-star characters completely irrelevant to the plot, but the audience is forced to sit through the entire story of their break-up story, watch them get engaged, and then hear an entire full-length original song from Grande about the comet. I concur with other critics out there saying, “give us a re-cut!”
With the barrage of stars in this cast, one would hope to see a few good performances, and this film does deliver to an extent. Leonardo DiCaprio makes a fine awkward professor who captures just the right amount of charm and embarrassment to complement co-lead Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Kate. Jennifer Lawrence reprises her role in Silver Linings Playbook to give us an even more unaffected woman who is steadfastly real, relatable, and still intriguing enough to not be unlikeable. Rob Morgan is a welcome voice of reason in the trio, and balances the group well. In fact, his character Dr. Oglethorpe is probably the only character I was not actively rooting against by the end of the film.
As for the rest of the cast, Timothée Chalamet yet again delivers the part of Quirky and Brooding Love Interest well, echoing his roles in Lady Bird and The French Dispatch. Jonah Hill is undeniably himself, a love-or-hate direct IV of comedic one-liners. Meryl Streep is pleasantly wicked, Cate Blanchett is smart but seductive, Kid Cudi serves the purpose, and Ariana Grande does well enough for the insufferable writing of her character.
While the holier-than-thou tone and off-target “wokeness” actually works to distance the audience from the film’s overwrought metaphor for climate change and the excess of corporate billionaires, the points were still there and this film did have some moments that were genuinely enjoyable. From tender existential ponderings to a heart-tugging ending, Don’t Look Up did take some breaks from attempts at overt cleverness to allow for brief moments of emotional sincerity. For this reason, the film cannot be regarded as a total miss.
One might find themselves laughing at the film rather than with it, but it operates just fine as a background flick while you’re folding the laundry. (Hey, maybe you’ll find yourself out of the room for that terrible concert sequence.) But I digress, Don’t Look Up essentially fails at making a genuine statement and is somehow both painfully obvious and confusing as a comedy, but its few moments of clarity make it a two-stars-out-of-five picture.