Don’t Look Up is a satirical, science-fiction disaster movie where two scientists discover a comet, a “planet killer”, that will directly hit Earth and destroy all of human civilization. Their efforts to warn and save humanity are hindered by politics, media misinformation and capitalist greed. Take all this and add an incredible all-star ensemble cast of famous faces and this is what the love child of Deep Impact and Idiocracy might look like – a combo I never thought I needed so much. It’s also one of my favorite movies of 2021.
Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) is an astronomy Ph.D candidate who discovers a new comet, which is quickly named after her. Kate’s initial euphoria at making the discovery soon turns to horror when her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), calculates that the comet will impact Earth in roughly six months – resulting in an extinction event that will wipe out the human race.
After they get confirmation from NASA that their calculations are correct, they present their findings with NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office head Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) to the President of the United States (Meryl Streep) and her son, Chief of Staff Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill). When the President of her staff doesn’t take them seriously as they are more concerned with their Party’s upcoming midterm elections, the three scientists are forced to leak the story to the media in the hope that the people will take the story more seriously than the government.
What ensues is a whirlwind, chaotic journey for our scientists as they become media and political targets by being turned into both heroes and villains, depending on a person’s or organization’s agenda and beliefs. With the Earth’s time running out due to political maneuvering and incompetency, media misinformation and capitalist greed, the future seems uncertain for both our heroes and the fate of the world.
Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic playing Kate Dibiasky, a young, passionate scientist with a fiery attitude and who isn’t afraid to say what she thinks. Her personality is the complete opposite to DiCaprio, who masterfully plays the meek and nerdy Randall Mindy, a dynamic that creates a hilarious onscreen duo given their different approaches to conflict and thus producing two types of comedic output at the same time. They’re brilliant together.
If that wasn’t enough, we have cinematic powerhouse Meryl Streep playing President Orlean, along with Jonah Hill who plays her son – and Chief of Staff – Jason Orlean. Streep and Hill work perfectly together as they parody certain nepotistic personalities who once held positions in the White House and coupled with the ridiculousness (well, looking at the world today, is it so ridiculous?) of the plot, it just makes for political comedy gold. Throw all four of these actors in the same room with a wonderfully witty script and it generates some of the funniest, most satirical scenes I’ve seen in ages.
Writer and director Adam McKay (The Big Short, The Other Guys) has directed what I consider to be one of 2021’s must-see movies, one that masterfully blends the sci-fi disaster genre with political and social satire while poking fun at EVERYONE: the left, the right, the government, the media, social media, capitalist corporations and science-deniers. What makes this more than just comedy is that amongst all that satire and fun-poking is the important theme addressing how humans have the ability to save our planet but through greed, misinformation, ignorance and incompetence we are responsible for our own undoing.
This is a film I’m sure will ruffle the feathers of some who feel it’s taking particular aim at them, but the truth is there’s often not one single root cause of any problem, which is really the message here. Many contributing factors affect our ability to save our planet and the fact that this film is likely to aggravate some people I think is a good thing. I enjoy art made purely to entertain but I also love art that provokes thought or action or at least gets you mad enough that you’ll look at something you’ve been ignoring.
Don’t Look Up is a highly entertaining film, with great performances from a great ensemble cast, a witty script and strong direction. You can watch and enjoy it purely for entertainment purposes much like you would any end-of-the-world disaster epic like Armageddon or Deep Impact, though with a much more satirical bent. Or you can enjoy its social commentary and consider the state of the world and how the absurdity of the plot isn’t so ridiculous – which is the scariest thing of all. Maybe just don’t look up after all.