Don’t Look Up Takes Aim At Easy Targets, But Leo Reminds Us He’s King Of The World
If you’ve seen the trailers, you have a very good sense of what Don’t Look Up is. If you’ve seen the The Big Short and Vice, then you know Adam McKay has the subtlety of nuclear bomb. I loved The Big Short, which made complicated topics easy to understand and took a fun approach to serious issues. Everything was at 11, but it worked well with the personalities on display. In Vice…well, for me personally I felt the whole thing was preaching to the choir. More than that, it was preaching to other preachers.
So I’ll admit I was cautious about this movie for that reason, but hopeful because I’ve enjoyed the trailers. There’s no denying the targets in this movie are obvious, there’s no way to ignore that the humor stems from things any of us could comment on, but none of that stops the movie from being entertaining. It won’t work for everyone, but wanna know a secret? 99.9% of movies don’t work for everyone. I would say 100%, but like a scientist we must leave room for a fluke. This movie does have a message. It’s obvious from the marketing, and frankly I don’t think the movie has much more to say than what its surface level plot suggests. But guess what? I still had fun watching it!
The biggest reason is this: the actors are having a lot of fun. Some turn in really damn good performances, and Leo? Well, Leonardo DiCaprio is *great*. I like Leo, I’m not a die hard fan of his, but obviously he’s an icon. My biggest complaint with him is it’s hard to forget you’re watching Leo in a movie. His superstar persona often remains on screen (not always, I’d throw out his villainous turn as Calvin Candie as an example). This isn’t a bad thing, that’s part of why people love him. However, I’m stoked to report that as Dr. Randall Mindy, Leo often disappears. It’s like you really are watching this Michigan professor come to terms with a giant comet hurdling towards Earth. Leo’s Mindy has full grown children, isn’t charismatic, and he takes numerous medications. Leo embodies the soul and heart of a normal guy, and he’s incredible.
While Leo absolutely makes the movie tick at its best, other performers are obviously turning in solid work. Jennifer Lawrence is the best I’ve seen her in years, especially given her last two disappointing performances as Mystique in X-Men: Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix. She phoned it in so hard they charged her for roaming. Luckily here, as PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky, she’s all in. Her role isn’t as fleshed out as Leo’s, but she has enough to work with to create a couple fun running gags and to understand how much she cares about her work. My biggest complaint is she could have used a few more “serious” scenes, but the movie is already pushing 2.5 hours.
Outside of the main two, actors like Rob Morgan and Cate Blanchett get the most to do. Morgan is great as Dr. Clayton (Teddy), who is trying his damn hardest to help Mindy and Dibiasky get word of the comet out to the world. He’s often a great middle man who is disappointed, but not surprised by the events unfolding around him. Blanchett, who of course has two Oscars, looks to be having more fun than anyone. Her role as popular TV personality Brie Evantee exists to satirize how delivering the “news” in national programs committed to “keeping it light” can be problematic. Her co-anchor is played by Tyler Perry, and I genuinely love seeing him pop up in supporting roles like this. Their chemistry is believable and infectious, even though they also frustrate the hell out of us (and Leo’s Dr. Mindy). Blanchett in particular is one of the best elements of the second act of this movie.
Other standouts are of course Timothée Chalamet, who comes into the film very late but gets a few scenes that will remind everyone he’s one of the best actors working today, despite his young age. He also got the biggest laugh of the movie in my screening, and was the first time I burst out laughing. It gets complicated for some of the others, such as Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill. They are both very one note characters and often feel like the only two who couldn’t exist in reality. The point of the characters is once again very obvious, but they don’t get much to do outside of be a retread of the same joke in every scene. Streep seems to be having fun existing in these scenes sometimes, but she also sometimes seems like she’s unsure about the adlibs Jonah constantly throws out. I didn’t dislike Hill at all, but I very easily can see his style being something that makes or breaks this movie for some. He’s a complete encapsulation of what McKay was going for, while the above actors I named are lifting this material onto their shoulders and making it worth watching. For many, Hill may be a great boost of humor for a movie that is rarely interested in being “dry” or chill. It’s kind weird to make Hill Streep’s constant scene partner, but I admire the attempt much more than execution. Still, if seeing Hill do his thing is enough, you’ll love him here.
Everything on the production side of the film is top notch, but also not particularly remarkable. I don’t need every movie to be the most cinematic thing ever though, and I’m very glad this project isn’t full of the stylings that made Vice so overwhelmingly over the top. I get that worked for some people, but watching Don’t Look Up be more concerned with being a more straightforward movie was hugely beneficial to my enjoyment. There is the choice to cut out of scenes mid sentence, or even mid word very often, sometimes to decent effect to keep the pace up and keep the audiences engaged, but sometimes it just felt goofy, like they were trimming scenes for time or unsure how to end them. It’s not a problem for me, but it is definitely noticable. The opening titles and ending credits use giant, colorful text and, like everything else in this movie, have no time for subtlety. That’s either going to work for you or it isn’t.
Is this one also preaching to the choir? Maybe. But at least it starts off being a lot more palatable for audiences, no matter their political leanings. With it hitting Netflix, the odds that McKay reaches those who don’t already agree with him are substantially higher. The first and third acts are really, really damn good. Second isn’t bad at all, it just is full of less of the stuff I liked the most. I think the movie is at it’s strongest when it focuses on the characters and their situations/reactions to the news that a “planet killer” is on track to end all life. I cared about several of these characters, and loved watching actors I’m a big fan of interact. Don’t Look Up is not always as clever, or as smart as it thinks it is, but I don’t think it needs to be to make us think a little, feel a little, and just have a solid experience.