In something of a scientific backwater, Michigan State University astronomer Kate Dibiasky (as played by Jennifer Lawrence) is celebrating. She’s just discovered a new comet. Yet, any talk of what it might mean for her PhD has been brought down to Earth. Her comet is twenty kilometres wide. It’s on a collision course with the world and in six months’ time, everybody is going to die. So, in order to stave off any undue hysteria or panic, NASA’s Planetary Defense Head pulls both Kate and her frumpy professor (an excellent against-type Leonardo Di Caprio) in to meet the president. However, once they get in there, none of them are going to have the day they were expecting to…
Science is bad; the world’s full or phone-obsessed narcissists; we can’t handle the truth; and as a species, we all deserve to die…
In director Adam Mckay’s Don’t Look Up, it’s fair to say that Leonardo DiCaprio has got his geek showing, and it’s a wonderful sight. Couple that with a dead-pan Jennifer Lawrence where both are pushed into other celeb actors and the stakes couldn’t get any higher. It’s the end of the world and Hollywood’s finest have assembled for what essentially is Contact meets Dr. Stranglove meets Armageddon with a shed-load of zeitgeist thrown on top for good measure.
Now, as is all too often, too many stars in one film can spoil the soufflé as anyone who survived 2013’s Movie 43 can testify to. Yet, whilst Don’t Look Up has come in for a bit of kicking of late, to write it off as awful is not just wrong but also plain missing the point. Don’t Look Up is a satire. People are going to be made fun of, and for many, those cuts are going to be either too deep, not deep enough or just missing planet altogether. So, whilst many of you might be chanting “eleven benevolent elephants” into an inhaler now, believe me, there are still plenty of laughs to be found… and then there’s the peerless Mark Rylance. Coming off as a hysterical-yet-fearsome synthesis of Elon Musk, Tim Cook and Jeff Bezos, Mark Rylance ushers a brand new level of in-your-face parody. Floating serenely above all the unfolding chaos, it’s super clear that Mark Rylance brought his A-game to the ensemble whereas – *gasp* – yes – Meryl Streep has just dialled it in. Yes. For all of her abilities and many glittering resumes, President Meryl just got owned by Jonah Hill and that’s not just down to him getting all the best lines.
That’s because, for a comedy that is clearly reaching for the stars (and by that, I mean Armando Ianucci levels of genius), it has to be said both the movie and Meryl fall short of greatness. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still pretty sure time will be much kinder to Don’t Look Up‘s reputation than this week’s headlines. That’s because if you go all the way back to Peter Finch’s Oscar-winning rant from 1976’s Network, Jennifer Lawrence becomes the one to tell the world that she’s “as mad as hell and she’s not going to take it anymore”. However, this is now 2021. The internet now exists and public ire has since mutated into a force called “social media”. As a result, Don’t Look Up doesn’t miss a chance to weaponise her comments into the factually appropriate responses of the day: Science is bad; the world’s full or phone-obsessed narcissists; we can’t handle the truth; and as a species, we all deserve to die.
-But isn’t this all a bit “too soon” for you? -And the movie’s cast? Well, clearly for many in possession of a keyboard it is. Fortunately though, “this is Netlfix not Sparta” and in a nice piece of spine-waving bravery, Netflix has decided that it doesn’t care about box office receipts or sniffy reviews. Instead, they took a gamble on something that’s guaranteed not to make Donald Trump a “platinum level donor” and, should it be blessed with a decent amount of hindsight, might even yet turn into gold.
So, in short, I got the joke and if for one trouser-releasing moment this Christmas, you can let go of your expectations, then you might find some too. It’s the end of the world as Hollywood sows it and Don’t Look Up does a fine job scattering its seed, even if some of it finds stony ground.
After all, it’s the fate of satire to be misunderstood.