Don't Look Up

Don't Look Up ★★★½

They are gonna let a comet hit the planet to make a bunch of rich people even more disgustingly rich!

Many of the complaints for this have been centered around Adam McKay's unbearable smugness. My biggest problem is connected to his smugness, but it's not really the smugness itself. I don't really even mind that the film has the subtlety of a brick to the face - the subject matter just about earns it, and I enjoy bluntness when used correctly.

There's a mid-credit scene in Vice which imagines a group of focus testers critiquing Vice itself, which mostly just revolves around a conservative character whining about liberal bias, someone else saying it's based on facts so how is that liberal, they get in a fight, yadda yadda. But it closes on a punchline of two young women who are completely disinterested in these politics, and are instead interested in a new trailer for an upcoming Fast & Furious movie. Because young people only care about shallow entertainment, not politics. Already ironic, since, during the period Adam McKay is depicting, he himself was making silly comedies like Anchorman and Talladega Nights, which he would probably mock people now for watching.

But that's not my actual problem with the punchline. My problem isn't even the insufferable "ok boomer shut the fuck up" energy. The problem is how astonishingly out of touch it is, and it's a problem which crops up in Don't Look Up, especially in the first act.

This idea of young people as being disinterested in politics is so far removed from actual, observable reality that it's hard to imagine what alternate universe McKay is responding to. And his depictions here, of a population not only apathetic to politics and disaster but instead fixated on things like celebrity break-ups, feels not only false, but almost comically outdated. You almost feel like he's critiquing media trends from one or two generations ago, and simply hasn't read the room since the last time people used phrases like "MTV generation". It's just... weird.

And this stems from what I think McKay's biggest problem is, and no one will be surprised by this obvious observation: he's simply too desperate to appear smart, to the point that he needs everyone to look dumber. There are times where this actually lands, as when he touches on conspiracy theories - the point where the comet becomes visible in the sky, and people turn Don't Look Up into a slogan because they refuse to live in fear and also They are coming to take your guns etc etc etc... that rings depressingly true to the current climate, and it's an instance of Poe's Law where no amount of hyperbole could make them look dumber or more absurd than the genuine article. But, for every hit, there are misses, and McKay seems to struggle most when trying to depict, and critique, the general population at large. And the parts that don't work become more frustrating, because you feel they drag down the potency of the satire that genuinely lands.

In addition to its up-to-the-minute, had-to-be-COVID-inspired take on conspiracy theorists, I'd say it also works strongest when taking on the obstacle that capitalism presents in addressing catastrophes; this meme essentially becomes part of the plot. And while I think a more grounded, less screwball approach to that plot would've made the satire work better, it still basically shows how the interests of capital inspire misinformation campaigns. That said... I hope Mark Rylance had fun doing that performance, because it was not fun watching it. And personality-wise, he didn't even seem to fit the thematic role he was filling? Would've preferred someone who came across as more callous and self-interested, instead of... whatever the fuck that was.

This movie couldn't decide whether it wanted Meryl Streep to be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, and I would almost think that was an intentional instance of faux-intellectual both-sides-ism, but then the movie also has an amusing and on-point scene mocking the absurd stance of "people who are right and people who are wrong should both be listened to, let's look up AND down and stop being partisan", so, I dunno. Maybe McKay is just not the smartest satirist? Or didn't care? Who's to say.

The dinner scene at the end is pretty good, and shows a surprising amount of heart for a movie (and ending) which is otherwise consistently and exclusively cynical to an extent that borders on fatalistic defeatism. The scene of Leo losing his shit and having a Network moment on live TV was also a highlight.

You get to see Meryl Streep's butt. It's a good butt, ngl.

➡️ 2021 Ranked

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