Sunday, 16 January 2022

Netflix And Chill: Don't Look Up (2021)

People denying facts that are literally about to hit them in a major death-strike, a three word slogan rallying round those who decide to politicise a major problem for the entire human race, and media that is complicit in helping to keep the masses placid and uninformed. Don't Look Up is a comedy that foregoes subtlety in an attempt to present something that is horribly close to the truth of our present times.

Written and directed by Adam McKay (from a story co-created by David Sirota), who has made a number of superb comedies in the past decade that use humour to probe major societal problems with surgeon-like precision, this may be an obvious allegory for the many people trying to deny climate change, but it's also yet another McKay movie clearly showing how so many ills of our world are rooted in the same place as every evil, money. A news team (Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry) want to keep their audience happy for the ratings. A president (Meryl Streep) and her son (Jonah Hill) want to stay high in the polls, and nothing upsets people more than a potentially Extinction Level Event. There's also Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), a Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg/Elon Musk amalgamation, a very rich man with just enough scientific knowledge, and smart people on his payroll, to think he has all the answers.

The two lead characters, however, are scientists. Kate Diblasky (Jennifer Lawrence) spotted comet, which is then named after her, and Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) helped to work out the trajectory of it. It is these two people who spend the movie trying to warn everyone of their impending doom, helped by Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), but hindered by so many other people who have their own take on things, in defiance of the truth.

As well as those already mentioned, this packed cast includes roles of varying sizes for Melanie Lynskey, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Himesh Patel, Michael Chiklis, Robert Joy, and Paul Guilfoyle. Everyone is doing great work here, but the leads are surprisingly perfect in their roles. DiCaprio is allowed to be a very nervy individual, prone to anxiety attacks and a lack of confidence whenever he is in the spotlight. Lawrence's character is less nervy, but also less "media-trained", which works against her trying to warn people of impending doom. She doesn't care about who people are, she doesn't care about who gets upset, and her spiky demeanour is very funny, especially when she is arguing against a typically couldn't-give-less-of-a-shit Hill (who is both the son of the POTUS, and her Chief Of Staff). Morgan is the old hand at playing the game, as frustrated as the other scientists, but able to think up more strategic options to get the message out there. Streep isn't bad, she's certainly a lot of fun, but her character is the one who suffers most from the writing. She's a bit inconsiderate, trying to spin things the best possible way, but the comedy would have been strengthened by making her a complete idiot who couldn't stop herself from saying the dumbest stuff every time she had an opportunity to talk to scientists and people making serious plans. I guess sometimes you can't write anything stranger/funnier than reality. Blanchett is excellent, all super teeth and hair, and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by Perry working so brilliantly in his co-anchor role, showing a real talent for being able to play comedy well by simply playing it straight (unlike the style of histrionics on display with his Madea character). Lynskey is a sweet and calm presence whenever she's onscreen, Rylance is amusingly unsettling in his constant awkwardness, and Chalamet is a great addition to the second half of the movie, as sweet and calming as Lynskey, in a way. Grande enjoys herself, and has a very amusing main scene talking to a character played by Kid Cudi, Perlman is hilarious in his very small role, and Patel is, well, his character feels completely extraneous, but he's as good as ever.

There's a decent score by Nicholas Britell and a number of songs that work well in the soundtrack, although the best one is the fake "Justt Look Up" song by Grande, as well as excellent sound design throughout, but this is a film mostly about the visuals, from the first sighting of the comet to the unavoidable ending. It's also a film about having your own kind of faith, something that McKay makes a hell of a case for in the third act.

The news keeps telling us how we can do better in our daily lives, with recycling, going vegetarian, using our car less, etc. Don't Look Up serves as a reminder that individuals aren't the big problem. The big problem comes from those with the money, with the power, and it is reassuring to think that their long-term plan for money to buy their way out of everything is a delusion. Because it is. That's not to say that we shouldn't all play our part in trying to ensure that we avoid being the species to destroy the entire planet. It's just that, as well as doing our small household part, we really do need to do whatever it takes to create a massive shift away from the unrelenting damage being done by companies headed up by people who will never make enough money to satisfy them. The irony being that this review will be shared on Facebook and Twitter after I wrote it on my beloved Macbook Pro, and you can all choose to read it on your smartphone of choice. But at least I have never been flown by private jet to a climate change conference. So, y'know, everything in moderation.

But I digress. This is a great comedy that consistently stays on point when it comes to the serious issue at the heart of it (the nonsensical equality that has developed between opinion and facts). A lot of the cast are giving brilliant performances, with the two leads absolutely perfect in their roles, and McKay continues his run of great films that have started to make his filmography a real treat for fans of comedy and social commentary.


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