If you had to isolate over the Christmas period and also happen to have a Netflix subscription, you most certainly watched this film. Adam McKay’s latest biting satire Don’t Look Up, a film created in the hopes of ‘waking up’ humanity to the reality of the encroaching climate crisis and telling us to sort out our collective priorities, has taken Netflix (and the Internet) by storm. Setting a new record for the most viewing hours in a single week, Don’t Look Up has already become the third most-watched Netflix film in the company’s history. The film follows two astronomers Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) who, after somehow making the astounding discovery that there is a comet directly heading towards Earth from the confines of their Michigan observatory, are shocked to discover that their warnings fall on deaf ears. Even the President of the United States, played by living legend Meryl Streep, remains unfazed by the increasingly frantic, scientists’ revelation. What will it take to get the world (or just the United States in this case) to just look up?
Films that feature ensemble casts jampacked with A-Listers often come with extravagant expectations. Don’t Look Up is no exception. With forty-one nominations shared between only six members of the cast, this film was arguably one of the most hotly anticipated movie of 2021. The level of stardom attached to this project would have been daunting for most Hollywood directors. However, considering McKay’s previous experience of directing big names in films such as The Big Short and Vice, it would appear that this was just another normal day on set. However, the skill with which McKay has been able to balance having such a renowned cast alongside an engaging narrative seems not to have surfaced in McKay’s latest work. Instead, Don’t Look Up relies on the actors, not its characters, to carry the storyline. The script, complete with jokes that seem to have been taken directly from a TikTok comments section, feels like it was written solely around the actors themselves, and lacks the kind of nuance that would allow the audience to genuinely to connect with the characters and their backstories. By the end of the piece, it didn’t matter who was killed by the comet and who wasn’t – the audience never felt sufficient attachment to the characters in the first place. Whilst this disconnect may have been McKay’s intention given the film is technically classed as a satirical science fiction film, Don’t Look Up is so heavily concerned with being a satire that it loses all the other components that makes for a truly impactful viewing.
The cast, however, do try their best to convey and carry the film’s heavy-handed message. Arguably all of the cast, with the notable exception of Jonah Hill, most of the names in Don’t Look Up aren’t typically known as comedic actors. This makes for an interesting tone, as the film continually rests at somewhere between drama and comedy, but ultimately underperforms at both. The only actor who manages to successfully tackle the demands of being both a comic relief and a fully formed character is Timothée Chalamet in his role as Yule, as a young skater boy figuring out his faith. The final moments of the film see Chalamet delivering a final prayer before the impact of the impending comet, which is arguably the most poignant moment in the whole 145 minutes.
In essence, with the comet acting as an allegory for climate change, Don’t Look Up can be seen as direct criticism of government and media indifference to the ongoing climate crisis, aiming to provoke a greater discussion on our global leaders’ attitudes toward climate change. And it has done just that. However, cinematically, the film does not go much further than its high-profile cast. Despite the somewhat heavy-handed profound message and talent laden cast, McKay’s satire proves yet another highly anticipated movie that fails to land on too many levels. Its viewing numbers will undoubtedly satisfy the movie’s distributor, though.