Don't Look Up

Don't Look Up ★★★★½

A great way to end a movie year cycle here in the final week of 2021, with an all-consuming prestige satire about the end of the world, starring many of the biggest names in Hollywood and familiar faces from so many recent projects, that might also be a slab of Oscar bait to some extent (apropos of..everything about it), and an allegory for climate change/COVID/the disingenuous fabric of all American politics, a grimly amusing temperature gauge of what the Trump era hath wrought, and a sad example of what's happening to the cultural cache of the movie industry (enjoy your public life as but a quickly forgotten footnote in the endless Netflix archives, you otherwise large-scale would-be event film!).

The closest thing to a reasonable criticism I can think of against this surprisingly maligned picture is that its sense of satire is moot within a real world that's already been rendered openly ridiculous by Trump's mockery of government and the proliferation of satirical content from so many other sources on a regular basis. I guess that's true, but there's still a lot of cutting commentary running through it that rounds up much of the offensive absurdities we've experienced in recent years from the news, from entertainment, from the Oval Office, from the litany of differently horrible reactions to urgent global crises. The deception, the corruption, the ignorance, the bipartisan divisions, the negligence, the sloth, the greed, the selfishness, the fear-mongering, the hatred, the cowardice, the virtue-signaling, Adam McKay maps a fairly thorough portrait of what's wrong with the world on macro and micro scales, and does so by deviously subverting a traditionally inspiring, even patriotic movie trope, that of humans being called to action to save the planet. Of course we won't unify like in "Armageddon" or whatever. We'll fracture even more and hasten our own self-destruction exponentially in one way or another. Here's the scarcely-exaggerated movie version of our collective destiny. I found it funny, exhilarating, achingly depressing, scary and even a little beautiful in the end.

The cast is too much to even break down, and they're all crackling with aplomb. I was worried Leo's try-hard acting strategy would be a distraction but as usual, the final product of the movie he's starring in finds an organic balance for his mannered intensity. And I love how Mark Rylance is basically playing the despicable mirror image of his similarly passive, mumbling tech-billionaire martyr from "Ready Player One". That identity is much more sharply delineated in this movie (also I realize now that I've always been a sucker for the affectations of any performance involving fake teeth).

What completed my grand embrace of this movie was its final note of compassion. Yeah we can all be shallow, we all make mistakes and take things for granted, and there's no hope for any of us in the big picture, but we can find pockets of humanity here and there, even when it seems too late. We can love and share and be kind and feel gratitude in our own tiny little ways, while life comes and goes in a puff of smoke and the world crumbles around us. A touch of last-minute pathos is all I can really believe anyway from the ugly, cynical saga of our rotten species that plays out around us every day. Fantastic work, Adam McKay. Sorry more people don't agree.

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