Don’t Look Up Review

Adam McKay Delivers a Bloated Version of a Potentially Great Film


Adam McKay, writer and director of the 2021 film “Don’t Look Up,” has had a remarkable career.
The mastermind behind “Step Brothers,” “The Other Guys,” and “The Big Short” has adjusted his career one film at a time, moving slowly from distilled, goofy hilarity to more nuanced satire. “The Big Short” and “Step Brothers” are two entirely different types of movies, but both are hilarious. I’m a huge fan of McKay’s work and I think he does an excellent job of finding humor in any situation.
When “Don’t Look Up” was announced along with its subject matter and cast, I was excited. It’s a concept that’s perfect for McKay’s dark wit, and I’m a huge fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and just about every member of this film’s cast. I readily anticipated this movie’s release for several months.
But this film frustrated me, and not in a good way.
I want to start with the positive. The performances in this movie are fantastic. I think it’s a great role for DiCaprio. Lawrence is hilarious and relatable. Meryl Streep adds incredible energy with her performance and the rest of the ensemble does a great job. I have absolutely no issues with the cast of this movie and the performances they give (even if Ariana Grande lays it on a little thick at times.)
These performances speak to McKay’s talent as a director. He always gets amazing performances from his actors and this film is no exception. When this movie is humming it’s because of the performances. The acting in this film is simply brilliant.
But the writing isn’t, and that’s where I’m let down by this film. For starters, it’s just too long. I rewatched “The Avengers” recently and there is no reason for this movie to be as long as that one (“Avengers” is only 5 minutes longer.) McKay could have cut 30 minutes from this film, and the pacing would have benefited tremendously.
The other problem with the writing is that it feels, for lack of a better word, pretentious. That’s the best way I can describe it. Too often it feels like this movie is Adam McKay condemning or angelifying every individual aspect of modern society. According to this movie, everybody sucks except scientists.
I can feel McKay’s frustration, and I can understand it to an extent. The comet coming towards Earth is clearly a metaphor for climate change, but it’s misguided. The fight against climate change is much more complicated than the scientists being right and everyone else being wrong.
Climate change is a challenging problem to deal with and is far from a new issue, making it a much different scenario than a novel threat approaching and us having to figure out a way to deal with it.
There’s even a joke in the film about Hollywood releasing a $300 million movie the day the comet is supposed to hit. I don’t know if that joke was intentionally ironic or not, considering this film cost about $75 million to make (even if $75 million is a relatively low Hollywood film budget, that’s still a heck of a lot of money), but it felt a touch hypocritical considering the message that the money towards the film could help solve the issues at hand.
Which leads me to the biggest question I have for this movie: What’s the solution? The film doesn’t provide one other than “Believe all scientists.” And that’s ridiculous because plenty of scientists have been bought out by politics throughout history. You can find scientists today that disagree on all kinds of things, especially huge issues such as COVID regulations.
This film does not have enough nuance, which is a shame because there is a beautiful film hiding here somewhere. I loved the quiet moments that focused on the characters.
I nearly cried at the ending because I cared about the people in this movie, but I was so distracted by the heavy-handed critique of all non-scientific aspects of western culture.
I understand that it’s a satire, but the best satires are well-measured, they don’t overstep their bounds and they’re more concerned about the story’s substance than the virtues of their message.
I would love to see an hour and a half version of this movie, one that focuses more on the characters, less on the sins of our society and offers potential solutions to existential crises. It can still be a pessimistic satire with more subtlety and more heart, and less anger and venom.