Does Adam McKay turn things around with his latest foray into more serious filmmaking? The Big Short caught everyone’s attention with the first effort from Adam McKay away from his comedic pairings with Will Ferrell. Then he followed it up with Vice…which felt like McKay was feeding into himself way too much. But now Mckay heads over to Netflix with this big scale science fiction satire Don’t Look Up. When a comet is hurtling towards Earth, what do humans do? This one is quite the relevant exercise.
What is McKay trying to say with this bulging satire? It is easy to find out since almost all the commentary is on the surface and focuses on some serious low hanging fruit. The most obvious parallel for the story is replacing the comet with climate change. The government tries to hide the truth, the media tries to candy coat it, and society wants to look away. Not necessarily something new. Then you can look at it in the COVID sense as well. Scientists try to warn the public and are met with deniers. Nothing new, right? The biggest issue with Don’t Look Up is that these parodies and jokes are made thousands of times per day by random people on Twitter. Then didn’t even need Netflix to bank roll it either to do it.
Even if the ideas are not original or clever, does it deliver the laughs? Mostly. There are plenty of moments in the film that garnered hearty laughs on my end. The pure commitment by the cast also goes a long way in bringing these laughs. But I am not here to say that McKay doesn’t provide some great material to work with. But for the same reason South Park avoids Trump…it is just too low hanging to have fun with. Honestly, the sharp editing and energetic filmmaking garner a decent amount of the laughs by delivering some great reactions from the cast. You can tell that some characters are just here to deliver some laughs and/or represent someone or something that McKay wants to lampoon.
But does McKay succeed in balancing this incredible ensemble of characters? There are parts of the film that feel like they can just be cut from the film. Timothee Chalamet is just there to be a religious surrogate so that McKay could loop in some commentary on that. Cate Blanchett is more than just a new parody so that she can have an affair with Leonardo DiCaprio’s character. But why? Why was this necessary? It didn’t feel that way. This film that is almost 140-minutes could have used some serious trimming. This would have given more focus to the main commentaries instead of trying to shoe-horn in everything wrong with humanity (which is what the film felt like it was trying to accomplish).
But what about this stacked cast? DiCaprio gives another manic and impactful performance that channels the same neurotic energy that he did in Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood. He gets a few moments where he gets to scream and monologue like a champion. Jennifer Lawrence gets to do some of the same yelling monologuing but her overall performance is more subtle but also some of her best work in years. Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill offer the same kind of reckless energy as mother-son (the President and her Chief of Staff). They both bring plenty of laughs along the way. Mark Rylance is probably the most noticeable supporting actor who gives an off-kilter and strange performance that is just too weird to look away from. Then you have an endless list of big names who appear to varying degrees of effectiveness and necessity.
Is Don’t Look Up worth your time? It really depends on your expectations. Do you want something clever, new, and fresh? If so, this never quite reaches that place. Think of it more as Twitter feeds filling a script writing software and plopping out a big, budgeted science fiction satire with as many Twitter jokes written in as possible. What if you just want a fun ride for almost two and a half hours? Then head on over to Netflix for this one.