With reports of the Omicron Covid variant on the news daily, Netflix's all-star comedy Don't Look Up is either arriving at the best or worst time.
Fortunately, it's not about a pandemic, but there's a lot in Adam McKay's latest movie that could cut too close to the bone for some viewers, or it could be cathartic. With a comet on a collision course with Earth, Don't Look Up explores how hard it could be to get the message out there in the era of fake news.
While written about the climate crisis (the comet is just a metaphor for it, really), there's a lot in the movie that could just easily have been written about the pandemic. McKay pulls no punches, so as much as Don't Look Up makes you laugh, it could make you very angry as well. And that's the point. It's not meant to be a subtle movie, but whether it's something you want to watch with ALL THIS going on remains to be seen.
Don't Look Up starts with a sequence we've seen in many an apocalypse movie. Astronomy grad student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) settles into an ordinary day's work, only to make a horrifying discovery. Together with Dr Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), they work out that a 5-10km wide comet is on a direct collision course with Earth.
It's an extinction-level event and so after talking to the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (a real organisation within NASA), the duo is off to Washington to talk to US President Orlean (Meryl Streep). In a typical end-of-the-world movie, it's here where plans are made and a heroic attempt to save Earth is underway.
Only this time, the president wants to "sit tight and assess" until the midterms are over in three weeks' time. With no backing from the government, Kate and Randall are forced to embark on a media tour to get the word out to force some action and stop the imminent destruction of Earth.
But in a world where people believe anything they read on social media, can the duo use the 24-hour news cycle to get the world to look up before it's too late? We don't hold out much hope, to be honest...
Before the pandemic, there would be elements of Don't Look Up that wouldn't ring true, such as people not believing actual astronomers that a comet was on the way. However, the movie now rings horribly true even when it's at its most ludicrous, whether it's tackling how social media divides us, or the self-obsessed decisions of those in charge.
McKay is going for obvious targets throughout, such as a nod to that Donald Trump photo on the White House lawn, but it's still hilarious when the gags land. There's a looseness to Don't Look Up though that means some jokes drag on far longer than they should, and large chunks of the middle section could be lost with little impact to the story.
It's a tricky balance that McKay had to land between the absurdist humour and the darker apocalyptic story, and it doesn't always work. In particular, the editing takes a while to adjust to, as scenes appear to end abruptly, or are overlapped for no obvious reason. At their best, the smash cuts heighten the humour, but there are plenty of other times where they just feel like style for style's sake.
Even during the messier stretches of Don't Look Up, McKay still has a stellar cast to keep you engaged. It's led by the powerhouse duo of Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, both actors who would be among the first choice to sell such an outlandish concept. As Kate and Randall cycle through anxiety, rage and apathy, it gives the two stars a true showcase for all of their talents.
They're hardly alone though as there's an incredible supporting cast, including Meryl Streep revelling in her pompous president role, Cate Blanchett as flirty morning show host Brie Evantee, and Timothée Chalamet as the surprisingly deep Twitch streamer Yule.
The MVP though is Mark Rylance in a truly chilling and eccentric role as tech billionaire Peter Isherwell, the "third richest human ever". It's a transformative performance that sees Rylance steal every scene he's in, and it's a testament to him that however weird it gets, it still feels horrifyingly authentic.
Crucially too, everything comes together in the final act as McKay perfects the tonal blend and sticks the landing. As he leans more into the social divide that we've all experienced in recent years, the movie becomes funnier and more affecting at the same time. It culminates in a poignant and emotional final sequence that's more understated than you'd expect.
Don't Look Up might not all work as well as its final act, but it still makes an impact and maybe it'll even change some minds of those who watch it. Even if it doesn't, you'll still have a fun time hanging out with this cast at the end of the world.
Don't Look Up is available to watch now on Netflix.
You Might Also Like