Movie Review: ‘Don’t Look Up’ Is Understandable but Unbearable


Promotional poster courtesy of Netflix Studios.

Don’t Look Up may be the single greatest example of a film that I wholeheartedly agree with and support the making of and yet wholly dislike.

The latest film to come from director and former Saturday Night Live head writer Adam Mackay is, on the surface, a satirical look at America and the world’s inability to handle a world-ending event due to incompetence and ignorance at every level.

The story follows Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio as two astronomers from Michigan State University discover a comet on course to crash into earth and struggle to spread the word of it in a face of the American public and a government, who would prefer to focus on the love life of a fictional analog of Ariana Grande.

The leads give perfectly solid performances, with Jennifer Lawrence as the clear standout, with some truly heartfelt scenes throughout the film. She really gets to express the anger felt by much of the real-life scientific community at an uncaring America. However, a lot of the backing cast is pretty mediocre, with Meryl Streep’s Trump-esque president and Mark Rylance’s Steve Jobs but with a weird Kermit the Frog voice both just becoming more and more grating every time they appear.

But to be entirely honest, the performances of this movie are secondary to just the overwhelming insufferable tone of the whole piece. It lays out the most obvious and on-the-nose satire of our real-life response (or lack thereof) to climate change and then acts like it’s the single smartest and greatest comedy ever written.

To be sure, it is very much of a kind with the majority of Saturday Night Live sketches during the past couple of years, which perhaps is unsurprising, given McKay’s background with the show. Maybe a live studio audience is what this needed, people for the cast to turn to so they could all acknowledge their superiority over a perceived outside group who somehow isn’t in on the joke despite it being spelled out in 200-point font.

To be honest, though, the reason for this lack of subtlety is really not hard to understand. Back in 2010, McKay released the equally on the nose comedy film The Other Guys, which as he described as trying to do “this slightly absurdist comedy that was also an allegory for the whole financial collapse, and we put all this work into it … and then the movie came out and no-one cared, no one even noticed that we had done this”

Combine that with the deeply infuriating task of trying to get America to act in any generally beneficial way on a scientific issue, and it makes it very easy to see why Don’t Look Up is inclined to lay everything out so obviously.

But in the end, it just doesn’t come together. I’d like it’s possible to make a film that’s plainly a call to action without it being just unbearable, but this film certainly isn’t it. Here’s hoping for Avatar 2, I suppose maybe we won’t forget about it in a year this time.