Sunday, January 23, 2022

‘Don’t Look Up’ Review: A Hilarious Yet Sobering Cultural Caricature

Adam McKay’s storytelling prowess strikes again, this time with prophetic apocalyptic comedy Don’t Look Up.

Boasting an impressive ensemble cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Rob Morgan, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jonah Hill, Don’t Look Up follows astronomers Dr. Randall Mindy (DiCaprio), Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Morgan), and Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence) as they try to convince the United States President (Streep), and her son/Chief of Staff (Hill), that a “planet killer” asteroid is headed straight to Earth with a 100% impact probability. Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande, Cate Blanchett, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, and Ron Perlman add a rainbow of colorful characters that are unforgettable regardless of screen time.

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McKay again proves his writing can elicit a range of emotions and promote conversation through comedy. If society has told us anything over the last two years it is that the sincere pleads of scientific officials aren’t enough to get a serious conversation going, so McKay brings another method to the table. The film explores this blatant disregard of fact in favor of agenda-furthering biases and the potential catastrophic future that lies ahead if we continue on this partisan trajectory. Through the utterly hilarious dialogue from its array of personalities, there’s a very somber message being told throughout.

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The film turns a mirror on every crumbling aspect of our current culture from the degradation of the integrity of our public figures including the media, our politicians and elected officials, and CEO’s to how that degradation trickles down to affect everyone from our parents to our neighbors. As Leonardo DiCaprio takes on a very Dr. Fauci-esque personality as the disregarded astronomer, it’s incredible to realize that McKay had written this before the Covid-19 pandemic, as the story retells an eerie reflection of the previous administration’s handling of this equally horrifying real-life event. It’s pure exasperation and frustration, and if this situation hadn’t already felt all-too familiar the response may have been different. However, almost two years after the arrival of Covid-19, it was more acknowledgment than shock. And this works in its favor. There’s a certain comfort in seeing these characters experience the ranges of emotions felt by everyone, whether it was turning to religion, or giving up, or trying to find compromise, it’s easy to find yourself among the crowd (just hopefully not in the Orlean family).

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Leonardo DiCaprio continues to prove he’s one of our generation’s best, which comes as no surprise. I consistently forget how well he performs in comedic roles and this film is the perfect reminder of just how many different facets he can seamlessly meld into one character, and how he can manage to add numerous levels of depth even in a comedic role. This was obviously a passion project for DiCaprio, who has spent years of his life tirelessly utilizing his public position to further the conversation about climate change. He sits on the board of numerous environmental agencies as well as founding his own, and to find a way to hammer the urgency of the Earth’s situation at hand with this script, filmmaker, and cast was clearly an indispensable opportunity for him, and he puts his all into Randall Mindy’s descent from Michigan State astronomer to purveyor of Earth’s fate.

Lawrence makes her return to the big screen after a 3-year hiatus and captures the frustration of being a woman in science with the perfect tone. At first, I was highly frustrated with how Kate was portrayed in the script, finding many flaws in how women should be treated by colleagues and society alike. Then, I realized that was the point. It was an active choice of McKay’s to shine a light on how society holds women to a higher standard in terms of behavior but a lower one in credibility. As a woman, it was extremely frustrating to watch, however I do hope that just as the film holds a magnifying glass over the current battle of fact vs fiction, it also starts a conversation on the polarizing differences between how men and women are treated.

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Of course, Meryl Streep just oozes charisma as the corrupt President Orlean, with Jonah Hill rounding out the duo as her son and Chief of Staff, Jason. The chemistry between these two was purposefully bizarre, and Hill’s choices in how Jason interacted with his mother were just nauseating enough to be absolutely hilarious. There’s certainly content these two pulled inspiration from, and watching it play out on screen truly made me wonder how anyone in these scenes was able to complete them without completely breaking. Speaking of eerie, Mark Rylance crafted the perfectly unsettling and particularly malevolent character, a caricature of men who are in more control of our society than we’d like to admit.

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The freedom McKay gives his actors in terms of improvisation to the script allows for organic performances from a stellar ensemble of some of Hollywood’s best. While at times improvisation can be used in lieu of a quality script, this is never the case with McKay, who proves that there is room for both to excel. His trust in his own script and his actors’ abilities is evident in every scene, and the humility of those involved and their love for this project shines through.

While Don’t Look Up was originally a metaphor for the dire state of our planet’s climate, thanks to the mishandling of our country’s affairs as of late it turned into so much more. While embellished and overexaggerated (sort of …) it certainly provides the means to open up a lot of deeper conversation, with other and with ourselves.

Don’t Look Up releases in theaters on Friday, December 10 and on Netflix Friday, December 24.

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