Photo By: Noah Nickel via Netflix
Don’t Look Up is a new film brought to Netflix by the creators of The Big Short. Don’t Look Up follows the same formula as The Big Short, taking a complicated topic and focusing on the human elements of the story to explain it.
Unlike The Big Short however, which focused on the real life 2008 stock market crash, Don’t Look Up tells an entirely fictional story. It follows Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) who has just discovered a massive comet on a collision course with Earth. Dibiasky and her professor, Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), must convince the American government to take action to defend the earth from certain destruction. The story is political and tense and incorporates a vast array of characters, making it a strong ensemble story with an all-star cast.
Looking at various governments’ approaches to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the kind of frustration the characters are facing in Don’t Look Up connects to audiences’ real lives. For many, it may also come across as a representation of inaction in the face of the climate crisis. The message of the movie is partly how important it is to listen to scientists, but it also gets at something more sentimental about what really matters in life, because in Don’t Look Up it’s not wealth or power, it’s other people.
Movies like this are rare, which is good because too much apocalyptic media can be depressing. It may not be the kind of movie you come back to many times, but the storytelling and script are impressive. It has a calculated tone that lies somewhere between that of a tense apocalypse film and a big-budget comedy. The choice to approach this story with that tone was crucial to making the film work. It would have been too miserable if it was just played as an apocalypse drama, but had it leaned all the way into comedy it would have been underplaying the compelling themes it represents. Part of what allows the film to resonate with viewers is the feeling that the writers are commiserating with them rather than talking down or catastrophizing.
Something that stands out about this movie is how it has resonated with audiences of different ages. People in their 20s who have grown up hearing about the impending climate crisis and imagining a post-apocalyptic future seem to find that it invokes a deep existential dread, one that is somewhat familiar. The comedic aspects and the heart of the characters help to balance the existential dread and make it a movie that is more than an exercise in misery. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. Finding the balance in tone is difficult and the execution of it was impressive.
Lawrence is grounded and plays Dibiasky as a complete human being reacting to incredible circumstances. She is the heart of the film and the character the audience follows throughout. DiCaprio as Randall Mindy is a sort of fumbling nerd who has no idea how to work alongside politicians. His performance is solid, and as an actor known as a Hollywood leading man he does a great job sharing focus and supporting the rest of the cast on screen.
One of the more underrated performances is Melanie Lynskey as June Mindy, Randall’s wife. She is one of the actors the audience can forget is acting at times because she’s so naturalistic. Rob Morgan as Dr. Teddy Oglethorp is similar, his character is a constant that the audience can depend on as the action of the film gets more and more tense and chaotic.
Jonah Hill’s performance as Jason Orlean stands out as crucial to the tone of the film. He is so incredibly sincere no matter how silly things get — this is part of what makes him such a successful comedic actor. Timothee Chalamet as Yule similarly serves the more comedic notes of the film, balancing out the catastrophe of Lawrence’s performance.
Seeing Meryl Streep in a comedic role is always a treat. Here, she plays President Janie Orlean, the mother of Hill’s character. Her skills as an actress allows her to bring real specificity to comedic moments and a sense of danger to the film overall. Her dynamic with Hill is excellent as well.
There are so many skilled actors giving intense and impressive performances in Don’t Look Up, even if the story weren’t well-constructed and compelling it would probably be worth checking out just for the cast. It would be impossible to go into detail about everything that comes together to make this movie work, but rest assured it’s an impressive feat.
Some viewers disagree about what Don’t Look Up is an allegory for, and if it is an allegory for anything at all. But whether it is about COVID-19, the climate crisis, the way the government ignores scientists in general, or none of the above, it’s certainly worth checking out and forming your own opinion on.