Don’t Look Up, directed by Adam McKay and written by McKay from a story he developed with David Sirota, wants to be Network but for climate change. Roughly two-thirds of the way into the film, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio, whose performance is one of the only redeemable things in this film) rants on national television about the importance of paying attention and taking action to prevent the end of the world. Real life climate change activist DiCaprio imbues this speech with palpable passion, but by the time it arrives in Don’t Look Up, it is far, far too late. I already desperately want to Not Be Looking, as in, not be looking at this movie anymore.
When a comet is discovered hurtling toward Earth on a direct collision course set to wipe out humanity, stereotypically abrasive Millennial woman Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and her nervous PhD supervisor, Dr. Mindy, head for Washington, DC to alert the president. But though the science bears them out, President Orlean (Meryl Streep), and her nepotistic growth of a son, Jason (Jonah Hill, another of the few redeemable presences in the film), have no time for end-of-the-world scenarios. The midterm elections are coming! It’s not until a sex scandal threatens to derail Orlean’s agenda that she embraces a “save the world” rhetoric, but even then, she reverses course once again when a billionaire tech weirdo (Mark Rylance, doing a big-teethed version of his Ready Player One character) persuades her to privatize saving the planet so he can attempt to mine rare earth minerals from the asteroid.
Don’t Look Up is not subtle, which is its main problem. People are not f-cking dumb, and just like Aaron Sorkin barking at youngsters from the pulpit of The Newsroom and every movie he’s directed except for Molly’s Game—which I am convinced at this point was directed by literally anyone else on set on any given day during production—it’s obnoxious for a movie to so obviously contrive to lecture audiences about climate change inaction. It’s an important topic! And there probably is a way to approach through a cinematic allegory about an asteroid destroying the planet, but this is NOT it. Don’t Look Up hits all the bases, from political inaction to a divided populace more interested in screaming at each other online than doing anything meaningful, to weird billionaires willing to risk everyone’s lives so they can maybe get richer. But there’s no grace to any of it, and the humor falls flat 99% of the time.
There is one moment in which Cate Blanchett, as a Mika Brzezinski-type news anchor, chugs a bottle of wine while exclaiming, “I’d rather drink and talk sh-t about people,” that will live forever as a god-tier GIF as soon as Don’t Look Up hits Netflix.
The most effective part of Don’t Look Up is the ending, which focuses on what is really important between people when everything else is stripped away. Don’t Look Up doesn’t offer much hope for humanity, but the ending displays an affection for and understanding of human foibles that is missing from the rest of the film. Adam McKay has shown an ability to make effectively enraging films that are also entertaining as hell, but Don’t Look Up disappears entirely up its own ass. There’s too much enraging, not enough entertaining. And while climate change inaction should infuriate us all, at the end of the day, McKay chose to make a narrative film, not a documentary, and a narrative film implies an intent to entertain. But Don’t Look Up is as entertaining as watching your most obnoxious relative rant at the family during a holiday dinner, only you can actually turn off Don’t Look Up. So there’s that.
Don’t Look Up is now playing in select theaters and will stream on Netflix from December 24.