Prolific Oscar-winning writer, Oscar-nominated director and cinematic philosopher Adam McKay’s new film on Netflix, “Don’t Look Up” is political satire, a parallel parody of recent years that becomes a tragic sci-fi parable about bad politicians and government, a movie that is so bad it’s good. There is no chance you won’t get what he is communicating but I wonder if his intended audience will watch it.
Meryl Streep plays President Orlean and Jonah Hill her annoying son and inept Chief of Staff. Jennifer Lawrence is Kate Dibiaski, a doctoral student who discovers a comet headed for earth, Leonardo Di Caprio is Professor Randall Mindy, her mentor and Rob Morgan is Dr Teddy Oglethorpe, head of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. This team of three tries to convince President Orlean to meet the coming planetary extinction event by blasting it off course, but of course, the incompetent and poll-mongering administration is worried about the mid-terms, a looming presidential sex scandal, and issues with a totally unsuitable Supreme Court Judge nominee. Scientific data? “Let’s wait and assess,” decides President Orlean.
Worse than that, Paul Guilfoyle’s two-star General Theme, who is supposed to be with them at the White House meeting, sells free White House snacks to them then goes off for a meeting in Japan. After a seven-hour wait and no meeting, the White House puts up the group at a 1 star motel. Kate’s obsession with finding the logic behind the general’s absurd behavior runs throughout the film; it’s funny. I mean, extinction is a definite possibility but thinking about the absurd is one way to deal with it.
The situation just goes downhill from here. I mean, the White House starts a campaign “Don’t Look Up!” with a logo of a thumb pointing down, as the scientists are insisting in every way they know, “Look up and see what’s coming.” They have the data that proves it. Dr. Mindy gets caught up in the clueless media machine for a bit, but is able to move on, and when Kate yells the truth on a TV chat show her demeanor is interpreted as a breakdown, and everyone starts talking about mental health.
Both Dr. Mindy and Kate are told they need media training to talk about a huge comet with the potential to destroy the planet. In other words, keep it light and fun.
Click here for a list of the complete cast and a pretty good description of the film on Wikipedia. Come to think of it, Wikipedia was not even mentioned in the film. Wonder why.
Ariana Grande is Riley Bina, who along with almost everyone else, highlights the growing superficiality of American culture, pop or otherwise. But she sings a song of impending doom with all her heart, wearing a dress suggesting a comet, where the clash of truth’s beauty and tragedy grates rather than comforts. This satirical moment might make you cry. Turn on the subtitles; the lyrics are worth contemplating.
Timothee’ Chalamet is Yule, a kind of hippy, with whom Kate has a relationship and who has something really honest to say about his faith journey. He leads the prayer at the last supper at Professor Mindy’s home in Michigan (it is much better than Will Farrell’s grace to the Baby Jesus in “Taladega Nights”):
Dearest Father and Almighty Creator, we ask for your grace tonight despite our pride, your forgiveness, despite our doubt.
Most of all, Lord, we ask for your love to soothe us through these dark times. May we face whatever is to come in your divine will with courage and open hearts of acceptance. Amen
But, Yule, is what is about to happen God’s will? More like the consequences of human choice and behaviors. It’s not God’s fault.
Hope is mentioned in the film but is hard come by.
Another poignant moment at the dinner table is when Dr Mindy, his wife and two sons, Dr. Oglethorpe, Kate and Yule, hold hands before praying and Randall looks around and says, “We really did have everything.”
Think about that.
Mark Rylance is Peter Isherwell, the third richest man in the world, a character that is emblematic of corporate greed and influence on and collusion with politicians. He plays his role as a communications mogul with unnaturally white teeth and phony grin, brilliantly.
This may be a painful movie to watch depending on your expectations, beliefs, or perspectives but you can have fun trying to match up the characters with real life people and situations. If you don’t think actors should have opinions, well, they do. My bet is that the actors who are in this film, some who are McKay’s favs, are there because they want to be. This is entertainment with the potential for much social impact.
There is actually much to unpack in this film. A social media friend called it “ridiculous.” But that is the whole point, you see. We have the data.
( I updated and slightly edited this review for clarity and meaning on 12/28)