It’s the end of the world as we know and we feel, er, fine? No, we don’t feel fine. We feel angry, frustrated, and repulsed at how our leaders lead, how our governments govern, and how, for some, the end can’t come soon enough. Sorry to start on a dark tone but that contempt for those who make our decisions for us – and their stupidity – of course, is pure, unabashed fodder for someone like Adam McKay, who has already taken aim at those in charge of your money and your world leaders. So an apocalyptic tale about the end of days and the manic excesses that would follow is a walk in the park for someone like him. In fact, it’s arguably his greatest post-comedy achievement thus far.
What’s probably the most incredible part of Don’t Look Up – for which those three words and their opposite, Just Look Up become political messages as the comet inches closer and closer to impact – is that while McKay and story co-writer David Sirota have added a distinct layer of comic sensibilities to the film, most of what you witness in its slightly questionable runtime is almost exactly how the world would react to such a disaster and what that says about us as a species is so telling. Here, astronomy grad Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a comet and after some maths-on-whiteboard action, is told by her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) that it’s the size of Mount Everest and is an Extinction Level Event in the making. They use some dramatic (or comedic) licence, as one would, and not all their efforts produce gold but unlike the divisive Vice, the hits outweigh the misses.
Pop stars would compare their shooting star tattoos on their back to what the professionals are saying. Chat show hosts would turn talk of disaster into something concerning sex, fashion, and revenge on exes. The government would “sit tight and assess” before acting given that every cause has a reaction, in this case, voter confidence and their lead in the polls, rather than taking drastic measures. And, of course, a never-ending collection of memes, Boomerang’s and Tik Tok’s would sweep social media quicker than you can say “retweet”. Oh, and the charity song, lest we forget. So smart and sharp are the film’s satirical edges here that it’s impossible not to laugh along as if you were watching Anchorman or Step Brothers before your brain kicks in and the weight of the dilemmas becomes clear.
What helps the cause is getting the array of talent aboard to help the filmmakers tell their story and in DiCaprio and Lawrence they have not just two of the finest actors of their generation, but also a duo who have the wit and wisdom to keep the biting edge on the right side of satirical. DiCaprio, ever outspoken on climate change and taking better care of the world, was hoping for a script intrinsically linked to where his heart lies outside of acting and revels in being able to mix the two. It’s hardly his most showy of performances – his Dr. Mindy is a nervous, anxious wreck outside of science – but it’s one of his best. Streep, Rylance, Perry, Blanchett, and Morgan all excel, as you’d expect, although Jonah Hill‘s over-the-top Chief of Staff irritates constantly, it’s Lawrence’s return from her break from acting that is the film’s trump card and reaffirms that there is genuinely nobody like her – no-one can do exasperated as beautifully – and we love her for it.
Drama, Comedy | Cert: 15 | Netflix | Selected cinemas 10th December; on Netflix December 24th | Dir. Adam McKay | Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Mark Rylance, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Tyler Perry, Timothee Chalamet, Melanie Lynskey, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande