Don’t Look Up
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep
Written and directed by Adam McKay
If you enjoy watching A-list star-studded extravaganzas with satirical intentions, check out Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up. Now streaming on Netflix, Don’t Look Up is vying for a good number of trophies in the upcoming movie awards season.
The plot gets rolling when a huge comet is discovered and it’s headed for our planet. You’re probably thinking, you’ve seen this several times, but Don’t Look Up isn’t a disaster movie. It’s a satire.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays a university professor who predicts the time the comet will hit. With his doctoral student (Jennifer Lawrence), the professor immediately informs the government. The White House, however, has other plans. It chooses not to nuke the comet for the sake of big business. The comet, as claimed by the movie’s character version of Bill Gates (played by Mark Rylance), is a treasure trove of raw materials worth trillions of dollars.
The movie plays like an allegory on every world crisis one can think of. The subsequent events that unfold in a time of crisis are all there; the hysteria, the riots, and the online conspiracy theorists. The movie also imparts the old “we our own worst enemy” mantra, which was effectively essayed in Oro, Plata, Mata; and repeatedly shoved down our throats in Heneral Luna.
The execution, however, doesn’t come off as entertaining. The movie’s tone is inconsistent which makes it exhausting to watch. Writer/director Adam McKay fared better with The Big Short, which is his testament on the evils of Wall Street. He had been head writer of Saturday Night Live. It isn’t a surprise then when a scene in the movie plays like an overlong SNL sketch. The cast of Oscar-winning actors appears to be enjoying themselves, much in the same way they’d have fun as guest hosts of SNL.
Cate Blanchet, for instance, is game as an amorous TV talk show host. But what we see is Cate the Great play with relish a stereotype role. Cate the TV host has an affair with DiCaprio, whose wife (played by Melanie Lynskey) confronts them. McKay could learn a thing or two from the writers of Pinoy teleseryes. They’ve mastered the art of concocting such confrontations.
That particular moment is among the numerous disappointing scenes in the movie. When Adam McKay sets it up, expectations get higher but what happens is flat and unoriginal. McKay is no Paddy Chayefsky, who penned a riveting satire on TV, the classic film Network.
As for the leading man, DiCaprio comes across as annoying and difficult to watch. Sure, the professor he plays is constantly stressed out. But each scene he’s in seems designed to be a clip for Best Actor nominees on Oscar night.
His co-stars try too hard to look and act clever. They merely end up looking mean spirited and smug. The exceptions are Jennifer Lawrence and Timothee Chamalet (he plays her boyfriend). They both don’t play for laughs and this allows the story’s outrageousness to simply play itself out.
The movie does have its shining moments, and they come courtesy of Meryl Streep, who else. She plays the US president and as written, she’s the female version of Donald Trump. At one point, she is accused of responding to the comet crisis for just one reason, which is to divert attention from her sex scandals. Streep’s wordless response to the accusation is just the sort of acting that words or direction in a script cannot describe. I can’t either, so you just have to watch her. She also figures in the hilarious finale.
You’ll have to sit though the final credit role if you want to see the Marvel movie-like epilogue. It’s supposed to be funny too.
Don’t Look Now is so self-conscious of its intentions. It’s an epic movie with a political agenda starring the biggest movie stars who have their own political agendas. Thus it begs to have a pat on the back from the Oscars, whose awards nights are no different from this movie. Other films with similar themes and fewer pretenses have managed to deliver the message in a less partisan way but with genuine laughs. King’s Men comes to mind, or South Korea’s hit series Hellbound.
So as the old saying goes, the book is always better than the movie version. The book I’m referring to is Chicken Little.