Don’t Look Up: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence’s new film misses its target

There are decent jokes but Adam McKay’s comedy feels overstuffed

Don’t Look Up: There are occasional whispers of a better, less heated film bursting to get out. Photograph:. Niko Tavernise/Netflix

Film Title: Don't Look Up

Director: Adam McKay

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Cate Blanchett

Genre: Comedy

Running Time: 139 min

Thu, Dec 9, 2021, 05:00

   

You can’t fault Adam McKay for lack of ambition. Six years after winning an Oscar for The Big Short, the writer and director returns with a satire of more or less everything that’s wrong with the United States (and the world). The most obvious target here is governmental sluggardliness on climate change, but further swipes are taken at celebrity culture, social-media distraction, political nepotism, messianic tech gurus and the politicisation of science. There are decent jokes all the way through, but, even at a groaning 145 minutes, the film feels overstuffed. 

Don’t Look Up also suffers from underselling its central premise. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence play Randall Mindy and Kate Dibiasky, workaday astronomers who discover that a comet is set to destroy the planet. After some pushing against doors, they secure an interview with President Orlean (Meryl Streep in coasting mode) who, after keeping them waiting for various trivialities, greets the news with implausible lack of interest. The midterms are looming. The information is hard to take in. It’s somebody’s birthday.

Randall and Kate have only a little more luck with the mainstream media. They are invited on a daytime TV show hosted by Jack and Brie (no lesser stars than Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett), but the relationship trials of the era’s biggest pop star (it really is Ariana Grande) relegate them to a gutter at the end of the show. They eventually gain a class of celebrity, but more for their eccentricity than their scientific insight. Randall ends up in an affair with Brie. Kate finds herself cast among young dropouts (yes, it is Timothée Chalamet and, yes, almost everyone you’ve heard of is in this film).

The enormous, enormously famous cast play out some sharply written routines. But the targets are set up so broadly

Obviously no 18th century traveller would, as did the hero of Gulliver’s Travels, encounter islands populated with teeny-tiny people. There is no chance beasts could run a farm with such collective efficiency as those in Animal Farm. But the high concept here just doesn’t land. It feels like something that might work in South Park, but, in an insufficiently heightened universe, one is constantly left muttering: “nobody would do that.” It is the slow-moving nature of climate change that has allowed authorities to keep it on the back burner. Here the danger is imminent and apocalyptic. At a pivotal point, Randall finds himself bawling desperately at the TV audience. Why is nobody panicking? Many watching Don’t Look Up will ask the same question.

There are occasional whispers of a better, less heated film bursting to get out. When Kate visits her midwestern parents, she promises there will be no politics. By that she means “no science”. The Covid era is a good time to wonder how we got to that strange place. The enormous, enormously famous cast play out some sharply written routines. But the targets are set up so broadly – Streep’s distaff Trump is a case in point – that only the least-enlightened viewer will be surprised by their demolition.

Too much of some things, too little of others.

Opens on December 10th. Streams on Netflix from December 24th