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Don't Look Up is destroyed on impact, leaving little more than one-liners and a brilliant return from Jennifer Lawrence

In a film that blurs the line so erratically between fantasy and realism, it is often hard to judge where the allegory ends and the television skit begins

By Jamie White, Third Year, Film & Television

Don’t Look Up comes from the mind of Vice and The Big Short director, Adam McKay, whose migration into the rosebush of political satire seems about as unexpected as the 2016 election result that, even 5 years down the line, he cannot seem to stop contesting. In a film that blurs the line so erratically between fantasy and realism, it is often hard to judge where the allegory ends and the television skit begins.

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Documenting the discovery of a 10km wide ‘planet killer’ on its collision course for earth, Don’t Look Up is more apocalyptic science-fiction than McKay’s previous flurry of surprisingly-brilliant biopics. However, whereas Cheney’s rise to power or the 2008 financial crisis seemed very much within McKay’s ambit, Don’t Look Up, for better or for worse, delineates the very limits of his comedy stylings and feels more like a compilation of off-cuts from a SNL cold open than a nuanced exposé on the escalating climate crisis.

If anything is to be taken from this film, it’s not that our twitter-frenzied, ostracising, Starbucks-guzzling culture is inherently doomed, but that there are still a few remaining stars and directors in Hollywood, yet to be snatched up by the franchise behemoth, still attempting to produce original adult-oriented fictions. Fronting Don’t Look Up is an ensemble with so many accolades between them that it’s hard not to get lost in their magnificent sheen. Co-starring in their first production with the Netflix streaming giant is Leonardo DiCaprio as fretful, anxiety-ridden astrologist, Dr. Randal Mindy, and Jennifer Lawrence as his aid and student, Kate Dibiasky.

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, this is Lawrence’s first acting gig since 2018’s Red Sparrow. While the spotlight is certainly on her co-star, the prodigal actress delivers yet another career-defining performance. Whether having a panic attack on live television or cuddling up under the stars next to Chalamet’s Young Turk, Quentin, Lawrence emanates a remarkable range despite McKay’s often shoddy, plotting direction. This is particularly impressive considering the sheer weight of the star power the actress has to contend with.

In one scene in particular, Dibiasky and Dr. Mindy are flown to the white house to attend an oval office meeting with President Orleans (Meryl Streep) and her nepotistic son, Chief of Staff Jason (Jonah Hill). Despite most of the dialogue being allegedly improvised here, Lawrence is ruthless, witty and her eco-anarchism is hilariously contrasted against Streep’s nonchalant performance.

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It is in moments such as these that McKay reminds us that Don’t Look Up is well and truly an ensemble piece. Just like the issue it's satirising, everyone is here to play in this comedy-drama but it is a cosmos away from the intelligence and facetiousness of his previous films. Even the tone is blatantly inconsistent. While McKay’s signature cutting style does make for some provoking sequences of mother nature seemingly ‘carrying on’ in the face of adversity, it is nothing in comparison to the Macbethian stylings of Vice and feels more akin to a reality TV show than a doomsday drama.

Part of my critique with Don’t Look Up comes with the real-world catastrophe it seems to be sensationalising. As a UN climate ambassador, DiCaprio has asserted in several interviews that the film’s narrative is an analogue to the current climate crisis. From the rise of MAGA-hat wearing asteroid deniers to the off-shoring of social security to maladroit billionaire tech-philanthropists, the parallels to current societal contexts and issues are hauntingly uncanny.

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Yet, as a viewer, one simply cannot tell where and when the joke is meant to land. Everything in this film is trivialised, ridiculed, dumbed-down to the point of absolute absurdity and while I was happy to see Hill return to the screen, his off-the-cuff one-liners lay somewhere in between a fart joke and a Donald Trump Jr spoof.

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When a film could not be more ostentatiously trying to convey that we are all probably doomed, one shouldn’t be rooting for the comet. In a world of COVID-19, constant political scandals and misinformation, it is clear that McKay’s agenda here is not one of science or fact but rather the castration of neoliberal ideologies which has disseminated America’s democracy.

There is a tendency with satires, however, to become a part of the problem it is addressing and although Don’t Look Up is sure to gain some laughs to lighten your Christmas period, McKay’s allegory is an utterly ridiculous misfire. It’s just a shame that the same cannot be said for the asteroid it depicts.

Featured Image: IMDB

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