Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up comes at a moment when humanity is trying to avoid end times while simultaneously is one of a few movies coming out imagining such end times (Dune maybe, Marvel, Free Guy maybe). But it also feels retro in a sense, since it reminds me of other asteroid/ comet movies that came out in the 90s because an asteroid almost hit Earth. Yesterday’s panic can always return though, as the few Ebola/ Swine Flu films got real popular last year. It’s always possible that this movie will regain popularity if we find a comet hitting Earth.
This is basically what this movie is about, as Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), an astronomer from Michigan University, and a PhD candidate, Kate (Jennifer Lawrence), fly to the White House. Randall pussyfoots around to find the right words to use about a comet hitting Earth. He is, after all, delivering that piece of news to a President Orlean (Meryl Streep), presumably a Conservative, and her son, Chief of Staff Josh (Jonah Hill). There are a lot of close-ups of both Kate and Randall and their eyes are a suspicious, unrealistic, and pointless shade of blue.
Anyway, the astronomers try to get their point across to the cartoonishly ambivalent Orlean administration. Herein begins the acrimonious relationship between the astronomers and the Orleans. Out of choices, the astronomers reveal their discovery to the media since the Orleans don’t take them seriously. The astronomers feel the fallout that comes with their new fame. The astronomers, then, try to take their image back, and feel changes within their personal lives.
I already wrote down a few other movies that are like this one in some way or another. But since it’s a comedy about the apocalypse there has to be some criticism on its brand of humour. The first hour had its share of jokes but they’re mostly the kind of ageist jokes that viewers forget a half hour after hearing them. Although in fairness, the not ageist scene when June Mindy (Melanie Lynskey) breaking up with Randall in front of his morning show mistress Bree Evantee (Cate Blanchett) is pretty funny.
But that just reminds me that Blanchett is just playing the complex messed up female character that men lazily write. I’m sure that Ariana Grande knows that the movie is making fun of her. And it baffles me why she bothered to say yes to this. There’s an incest joke here that is reminiscent of another incest joke that another public figure made. Yay.
Its other comic techniques include cutaways to archetypal minor characters. Don’t Look Up has to use its all star cast, after all. Before I get to that, I’m starting to notice something about Leonardo DiCaprio. That he is an actor you cast in between making movies with Christian Bale. He also has a voice that would have felled a silent actor’s career but I’m just jealous. Anyway, a member of that cast includes Ron Perlman playing a Conservative war hero that Orlean assigns to blow up the comet.
The movie, then, cuts away to him training a bunch of kids on the White House Lawn. Ok, if I wanted cutaway comedy, I’d build a time machine and watch an episode of Family Guy during the innocent days of…The Bush Administration. It’s 2021, we deserve better comedy than this. Even characters like Orlean’s business donor (Mark Rylance) feels too old hat. His character is a reference to Steve Jobs instead of newer examples of evil old rich guys.
McKay’s use of editing is also more noticeable now that he’s in his serious weird Oscar bait phase. Weird Oscar bait movies, by the way, are the movies that are weird and edgy but in the way that the Academy likes. Anyway, these cut scenes also exist in more serious scenes of these serious movies, but the more he uses them the less effective they are. They worked in The Big Short, where the Pakula-esque feel gave that film an emotional core. This movie’s paltry equivalent to an emotional core is Kate ending up with a guy named Yule (Timothee Chalamet).
The editing is less noticeable in Vice which is one of the most condescending movies ever made. Here, supposedly, it shows that things rise and fall as a comet approaches to bring the downfall of many species. It also says that those many rises and falls don’t matter but they kind of do. And if they don’t why bother filming and making those images? Why make a film long enough for laymen to peace out an hour in? One of the silver linings in this movie though is that it shows what different people do during the apocalypse, and I’d be doing what Tyler Perry does.
Don’t Look Up is now playing at TIFF Bell Lightbox and is coming to Netflix for Christmas Eve. Good timing?