DON'T LOOK UP Movie Poster | ©2021 Netflix

DON’T LOOK UP Movie Poster | ©2021 Netflix

Rating: R
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Melanie Lynskey, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet
Writer: Adam McKay, story by Adam McKay & David Sirota
Director: Adam McKay
Distributor: Netflix
Release Date: December 10, 2021

DON’T LOOK UP plays something like a gentler modern DR. STRANGELOVE. Instead of nuclear war, Earth is threatened with destruction by a giant comet. While this is an act of nature rather than of human aggression, never fear – greed and stupidity will find a way to make things worse.

When University of Michigan doctoral astronomy student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a comet the size of Mt. Everest headed straight towards our planet, she immediately notifies her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Joined by fellow astronomer Dr. Clayton “Teddy” Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), Mindy and Dibiasky try to get the U.S. government to pay attention and do something to obliterate or divert the comet before it hits and causes an extinction-level event. This has a number of consequences, including political movements divided between “Look Up” (see the comet, acknowledge the danger) and “Don’t Look Up” (act like the comet is no big deal).

Directed and written by Adam McKay, from a story he devised with David Sirota, DON’T LOOK UP might be unbearably depressing if it weren’t so funny, and at times it straddles the line. The sadness isn’t tonal, as McKay maintains a friendly, jocular ambience throughout. It’s just that we recognize the real-life analogies all too well.

The glad-handing President of the United States, played by Meryl Streep, and her Chief of Staff son, played by Jonah Hill, aren’t precisely based on anyone or anything from recent history. In fact, they are a bit dialed down from comparable figures, if only because literally no one, even the shrewd McKay, could make up anything as outrageous as some of what’s actually happened.

McKay can, and does, come up with smart satires of politics and commerce, and the way both impact science. Mark Rylance gives an astonishing performance as a tech zillionaire who is simultaneously brilliant, petty, and way out there.

DON’T LOOK UP also delves into how an insistence on upbeat news coverage can affect our perceptions of what’s happening. While these observations aren’t new, scenes between the outraged Dibiaski, the flustered Mindy and a pair of anchors played by Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry are often hilarious.

In between the stinging satire and moments of rage (we feel the filmmakers’, and they elicit ours), there is some actual tenderness. Characters find themselves capable of warmth and camaraderie, and there is a sense of wonder at everything the living world has to offer, from babies to bugs.

DiCaprio is surprisingly adroit at portraying a science nerd, all earnestness and numbers. Lawrence has pleasing combativeness as his student. Morgan is sympathetic as the designated straight man amidst the characters. Streep is clearly having a blast and nails something real as the wily, oily Chief Executive, Hill is expert as her son, and the supporting cast is terrific.

DON’T LOOK UP is scathing, but by the end, we get the feeling that this is mainly because, for all their on-point bite, McKay and his colleagues care so much about what they’re discussing here.

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