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“Don’t Look Up” is Terrifyingly Funny

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The following contains spoilers for the Netflix Film Don’t Look Up.

Shepherdstown, WV- In November of 2019, just before the world was struck by the deadly Covid-19 epidemic, HyperObject Industries announced their upcoming black comedy film Don’t Look Up that would be partnered with Bluegrass Films and directed by Adam McKay – best known for his work on The Big Short and Step Brothers. The film would follow two astronomers after they discover a planet-killing asteroid headed straight for Earth and consists of an all-star cast that films of its genre are known for.

Filming for the movie began with a budget of $75 million during November 2020 and ended in February 2021 before being bought by Netflix later that same month.

The movie debuted in New York City on December 5, 2021 and was released to limited theaters on December 10 before finally being released to Netflix on December 24.

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Don’t Look Up is an allegory for climate change that boldly satirizes the state of the world’s approach to politics and media. It is often criticized for being heavy handed, and for good reason. The film does not require much deep thought to understand the messages behind the scenes.

Politicians ignore imminent destruction and deny proven and undeniable science unless it otherwise benefits them. Wealthy businessmen greatly influence the decisions of the government, and the media ignores pressing matters in favor of trivial controversy to garner clicks and attention.

Don’t Look Up is not easy to sit through. The film balances on a dangerous line between comedy and realistic terror, which lands it in a space of anxiety. Viewers will feel inclined to root for the messages the protagonists are trying to spread but will feel ultimately frustrated by the lack of care by the world.

This difficulty is not a criticism of the film as it allows the viewer to relate to the anxiety felt by the cast and should incite terror in how close to reality the film really is. Replace the word “comet” with “climate change” whenever it comes up in the film and the film instantly loses its “fictional” qualities.

The film has a lot to say and dips its hands in all the cookie jars. It wants to criticize politics, media, our values as a society, and the wealthy. Overall, the film accomplishes these excellently, but it appears to shoot itself in the foot with its strange choice in an all-star cast.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays astronomer Dr. Randall Mindy, Jennifer Lawrence plays PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky. Meryl Streep is the President of the United States and Johnah Hill is her advisor.

The film just keeps throwing Hollywood actor after actor onto the screen. There is not a single character in the film who is not a big-name Hollywood star. The movie even goes so far as to include Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, and a cameo from Chris Evans.

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One would think that a film with so much to say about the amount of power the wealthy hold would stray from such a star-spangled cast, but it seems the film hired every star there is.

While criticisms that these casting choices cause the film’s messages to fall flat are valid, it must also be understood that another message of the film is that we care too much about trivial things. The film aims to evoke a “hey that’s Captain America” response from its audience – the exact response the film is criticizing.

The film is also often cited as having shallow characters. Despite the huge cast of celebrities, each individual character aside from the two protagonists often come across as single note and lack human qualities, but this is because the characters are an abstraction of different social groups.

Mark Rylance’s character Peter Ishwell represents wealthy businesses with a hand in our government. Tyler Perry’s character Jack Bremmer is media-personified and serves to lighten the mood during news stories. Protagonists Randall Mindy and Kate Dibiasky are granted human-like qualities such as sudden exposure and fame and their responses to the new attention and imminent disaster.

These qualities are later extended to Timothy Chalamet’s character later in the movie, but given the excellent performances of the cast, it is a shame how poorly this is balanced throughout the movie.

The film has its moments with comedy, but it would be a lie to claim that the film is hilarious across the board. For every golden moment comes a joke that feels forced.  The writing is there, but the film often botches the execution. It is clear they were trying to balance comedy and drama, but some poor execution at times throws off the careful balance.

But when the film is funny, it is funny funny. McKay once again shows us what he does best with scenes like this:

You’re going to die alone scene.

On the drama side of this movie, the leads deliver in full force. DiCaprio once again proves his incredible range and Jennifer Lawrence sells her helplessness with ease.

Unfortunately, the movie can tend to be incredibly smug and heavy handed with its tongue-in-cheek approach to comedy which negatively affects the performances of supporting cast in the way they are written.

While Ariana Grande is actually playing Riley Bina and Scott Mescudi is playing DJ Chello, it is clearly a smug way for the film to have the two just playing exaggerated versions of themselves.

Overall, these issues make the film a little harder to sit through in its worst moments and help relieve some tension and frustration in its best moments.

Here is an example of excellent acting from DiCaprio from the film:

The film has one major issue that should be talked about more: it makes the claim that the media wants to keep everything light, which is just not the truth and detracts from how truthful the movie’s criticisms are.

In reality, what we see in the media is often tragedy and horror stories since media companies know that tragedy makes more money. So, for the media in this film to ignore the imminent destruction of the planet does not make sense.

Otherwise, the film finds terror in its reality. The claims it makes are wholly based in reality. Trust in the media is at an all time low and reliance on the government to serve anyone but the wealthy elite is nonexistent.

In terms of global warming, we are more content choosing sides and denying the facts than acting to stop a very real, very terrifying reality from coming true.

The very thing that it set out to critique became all we could talk about amidst 2020 and the pandemic, making topics in the film hit scarily close to home. That is what makes Don’t Look Up hard to digest, but I insist that this movie’s message is worth giving thought to.

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