Release some of that rage with Don't Look Up
The common criticism of Adam Mckay's latest, Don't Look Up, appears to be that its satire is so blunt that it is unfunny. Even if that rings true for some, it doesn't make the film's purpose less effective. The film was not laugh-out-loud funny, because it was downright terrifying. After Jennifer Lawrence's character, Kate Dibiasky, says as much, "Well, maybe the destruction of the entire planet is not supposed to be fun," on live TV, she is ridiculed for it. It takes Leonardo's Dicaprio's character, Dr. Randall Mindy, more time to get to his televised outburst: in which he yells that everything doesn't have to, "sound so goddamn clever or charming or likeable all the time." I get that the climate change message is obvious for a lot of aware viewers, but for me Don't Look Up is welcomed catharsis.
Mckay, the most prominent film director to be a DSA member, and friend David Sirota, leftist journalist at the The Daily Poster, came to the idea of Don't Look Up when they were talking about how the media cares little for the encroaching climate catastrophe. "It's as if there were a huge comet hurtling toward Earth and no one even cares," is generally what Sirota told Mckay. That the film has come out during the COVID pandemic, is coincidentally fitting, as it portrays the efforts of scientists trying to save humanity in the midst of money-minded power structures.
That's what makes the film more riveting than the typical disaster film. Certain critics misinterpret the film as one that the looks down at the common people. In fact, Mckay is placing the blame on the systems that work to misinform, such as a corporate media that's more interested in celebrities, centrist platitudes, and cultural divides over urgent news that directly impacts people. All the while, the elected folks in government, Meryl Streep as President Jain Orlean, are persuaded by big business, represented by tech mogul Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance).
Now, it's true that the stylings and tone of the film can at times be too self-indulgent. Peter Isherwell's introduction comes to mind; his on-stage presentation was a trite parody that lasted too long. I did end up appreciating the character in general. He's more a symbol of the delusional "genius" CEO than an impression of a particular person. Rylance portrays Isherwell like a husk of a deranged persona, and it's unsettling. As for the rest of the cast, they did well enough for me to forget about their star power. Though the large and colorful opening credits was obnoxious about making sure you didn't forget about the famous names in this movie.
Don't Look Up isn't as taut or elegant as Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, the classic satire about nuclear war. Does it need to be? Maybe at the end of 2021 people would like something more brash and rageful. One might balk at the star-studded cast, but if the names are what it took to get the movie produced and delivered to millions on Netflix, then maybe it was worth it for the sake of the message getting to as many people as possible. Columbia Pictures only greenlit Dr. Strangelove with Peter Sellers as the star in four roles. Kubrick explained, "such crass and grotesque stipulations are the sine qua non of the motion-picture business."
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The film could've included more positive scenes with the leads interacting with everyday folks. The moment Dibiasky sparked a riot at the pub for speaking truths, I guess, made sense as a farcical exaggeration. It also read as a belittling of mass protest. Perhaps Lawrence's character could've hung out with others beside the apathetic youth. (I did buy her romance with Yule. It's the end of the world and options are limited. That he looks like Timothée Chalamet didn't hurt.) Unlike Strangelove, Don't Look Up does focus on the people outside the war room. Both end as a dire warning, with the destruction of the planet. But Don't Look Up finishes with more heart as it shows our heros refusing to partake in the doomed plans of the elite and instead spend their last minutes with friends and family at the dinner table. And the rich who left Earth behind for another world... Well, it's made clear that they won't survive. Like emperors without clothes or servants (essential workers), they stand no chance when faced with the reality of alien birds eating them alive.