Don't Look Up (2021)
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Don't Look Up Reviews
I laughed, I laughed some more, and I nearly died at certain points… but through all the satirical material there is true heart to the entire film… as well tense themes that make us look at ourselves. DiCaprio is incredible
Full Review | Jul 26, 2023
Disaster film is a fitting title because this film was a disaster.
On par with a mediocre SNL sketch.
Don't Look Up hilariously approaches almost every theme worthy of discussion through Adam McKay's satirical screenplay that will undoubtedly leave viewers either incredibly satisfied or extremely triggered.
Full Review | Original Score: B+ | Jul 25, 2023
Don’t Look Up doesn’t give any space for the viewer to breathe. The film is chaotic and cluttered as only some characters are used to serve a narrative purpose.
Full Review | Jul 21, 2023
Incredibly effective, and it was nice to see the craziness of the world we’re living in portrayed as how it actually feels to live in it; often frustrating but usually ridiculous at how oblivious and indifferent most people are...
Full Review | Jul 19, 2023
Despite some clever gags... the film ultimately runs out of steam and fails to make a deep impact.
Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Nov 12, 2022
How I learned to stop worrying and love Don’t Look Up? Adam McKay’s film is a savage American political satire and the best since Wag the Dog. In his own words, he timed that shit perfectly.
Full Review | Original Score: 4.5/5 | Oct 21, 2022
Don’t Look Up calls out institutional indifference to impending disaster with relatable and riveting rage thanks to a scorching script and engaged ensemble.
Full Review | Original Score: 4.5/5 | Sep 1, 2022
There’s so much crammed into this movie, and it’s a miracle that (for the most part) McKay manages to hold it all together.
Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/5 | Aug 16, 2022
It's merely stating what everyone has already observed for the past two years, and delivering it with a shit-eating grin.
Full Review | Jul 8, 2022
A satire that at times reaches a revitalizing elegance and at others seems to emulate the level of discourse and debate in social media, television, and family tables: rough, raw, superficial, and even vulgar. [Full review in Spanish]
Full Review | Jun 28, 2022
Initially, the satire has a few funny moments... But I can't remember anything else. For this reason, I can't judge it fairly. [Full review in Spanish]
Full Review | Jun 8, 2022
Although I tend to agree with McKay’s worldview and identify with his cynicism about politics, media culture, and humanity’s general short-sightedness, his methods as a filmmaker rarely convince me. Don’t Look Up might be the exception.
Full Review | Original Score: 3/4 | May 29, 2022
Like "The Big Short" and "Vice," McKay's latest film pulls no punches in his political commentary, as he continues to make some excellent points but in a primarily condescending manner to his viewers who already received the message long ago.
Full Review | Original Score: 6/10 | May 18, 2022
The bulk of the movie is played for gags before the serious stuff kicks in at the end. Its never easy for a director to reconcile such contrasting tones, and McKay is no exception.
Full Review | Mar 29, 2022
Its still sadly rare to see female characters working in STEM given the grace to be imperfect on screen.
Full Review | Original Score: B- | Mar 17, 2022
Don’t Look Up ultimately feels like just one more disaster movie: it is far easier—and maybe even more fun—to imagine the apocalyptic end of the world than to imagine how we could live in a radically different way now to prevent it.
Full Review | Mar 14, 2022
I thought this was a brilliant film, the satire was on message. It's this kind of court jester-like satire that I really resonate with, and the cast was spectacular. (Steve)
Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Mar 9, 2022
Unfortunately, McKay and Sirota remain shy and hide behind shallow and often silly humor. Despite this, many will very much come to enjoy and perhaps even love this film.
Full Review | Original Score: 6/10 | Mar 7, 2022
‘Don’t Look Up’ Review: Tick, Tick, Kablooey
Adam McKay wants you to know that it’s the end of the world and you should absolutely, unequivocally not feel fine. (But do laugh.)
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By Manohla Dargis
Movies love to menace Earth. It’s human nature. In some of the most plausible doomsday flicks — “Meteor,” “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon” — a big space rock threatens annihilation. Usually, if not always happily, someone finally comes to the rescue, though that isn’t the case in the 1951 film “ When Worlds Collide .” Before it makes good on its title, this shocker rockets survivalists on an ark to colonize another planet, which is more or less what Elon Musk has talked about with Space X.
The director Adam McKay is not in the mood for nihilistic flights of fancy. Our planet is too dear and its future too terrifying, as the accelerated pace of species extinction and global deforestation underscore. But humanity isn’t interested in saving Earth, never mind itself, as the recent Glasgow climate summit reminded us. We’re too numb, dumb, powerless and indifferent, too busy fighting trivial battles. So McKay has made “Don’t Look Up,” a very angry, deeply anguished comedy freak out about how we are blowing it, hurtling toward oblivion. He’s sweetened the bummer setup with plenty of yuks — good, bad, indifferent — but if you weep, it may not be from laughing.
Maybe bring hankies, though don’t look for speeches about climate change and global warming. Rather than directly confronting the existential horror of our environmental catastrophe, McKay has taken an allegorical approach in “Don’t Look Up” with a world-destroying comet. Oh sure, on its website, NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (yes, it’s real) isn’t worried about near-Earth objects, as they’re called: “No known asteroid larger than 140 meters in size has a significant chance to hit Earth for the next 100 years.” Whew. But no matter. The planet is on fire, and so is McKay, who’s embraced his inner Roland Emmerich (“2012”) with a fury by lobbing a great big joke at us.
That joke is definitely on us or soon will be in “Don’t Look Up,” which follows a studiously curated ragtag collection of scientists, politicians, military types, journalists and miscellaneous others who face — or don’t — the threat of a rapidly approaching comet. “I heard there’s an asteroid or a comet or something that you don’t like the looks of,” a visibly bored president of the United States (Meryl Streep) says to some anxious scientists who have been granted an imperial audience. The scientists really don’t like what they’ve seen but the president has other things on her mind, including upcoming elections and the friendly perv she’s trying to get placed on the Supreme Court.
Packed with big names, many locations and ambitiously staged set pieces (and a lot of giddily terrible hairdos), the movie is a busy, boisterous mixed bag, and whether you laugh or not you may still grit your teeth. The story opens in an observatory where Jennifer Lawrence, who plays a grad student, Kate Dibiasky, first spots the comet. Kate’s giddiness over her discovery soon turns to fear when her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (a terrific Leonardo DiCaprio), crunches some numbers and realizes the worst. Together, they pass along the bad news. Enter NASA (Rob Morgan), the military (Paul Guilfoyle) and the White House, which is where the movie’s breeziness takes a turn for the ominous.
Also for the frantic, strident and obvious. McKay’s touch here is considerably blunter and less productive than it has been in a while. In his two previous movies — “ The Big Short ” and “ Vice ” — he blended comedic and dramatic modes to fascinating effect. He experimented with tone and pitch, and played up and down different scales, from the deadly serious to the outrageously silly. It didn’t always work. It proved easier to get into McKay’s groove when you laughed at, say, Margot Robbie explaining subprime mortgages while she’s taking a bubble bath in “The Big Short” than when you watched Christian Bale’s Dick Cheney discussing another American war in “Vice.”
The stakes are higher still in “Don’t Look Up,” which grows progressively more frenetic and wobbly as the inevitability of the catastrophe is finally grasped by even the most ridiculous of the movie’s buffoon-rich cast of characters. One problem is that some of McKay’s biggest targets here — specifically in politics and infotainment — have already reached maximum self-parody or tragedy (or both). What is left to satirically skewer when facts are derided as opinion, flat Earthers attend annual conferences and conspiracy theory movements like QAnon have become powerful political forces?
Even so, McKay keeps swinging hard and fast, and from the start, establishes a sense of visceral urgency with loose, agitated camerawork and brisk editing that fits the ticking-bomb story. He slings zingers and stages bits of comic business, making fine use of funny faces, jumping eyebrows, slow burns and double takes. Part ethnographer, part sociologist, he is especially good at mining the funny-ha-ha, funny-weird spaces in between people. But he’s not always in control of his material, including some cheap shots that slide into witless sexism. Presidential vanity is always a fair target, but too many of the digs directed at Streep’s character play into gender stereotypes.
Streep is a great deal of fun to watch when she’s not unintentionally making you cringe, and Lawrence gives the movie a steady emotional pulse even at its most frantic. McKay’s work with DiCaprio is particularly memorable, partly because Dr. Mindy’s trajectory — from honest, concerned scientist to glib, showboating celebrity — strengthens the movie’s heartbreaking, unspeakable truth: Human narcissism and all that it has wrought, including the destruction of nature, will finally be our downfall. In the end, McKay isn’t doing much more in this movie than yelling at us, but then, we do deserve it.
Don’t Look Up Rated R for violence, language and the apocalypse. Running time: 2 hours 18 minutes. Watch on Netflix.
Manohla Dargis has been the co-chief film critic since 2004. She started writing about movies professionally in 1987 while earning her M.A. in cinema studies at New York University, and her work has been anthologized in several books. More about Manohla Dargis
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It takes a certain kind of touch, a populist brilliance, to know that “Milk was a bad choice” could help launch a comedy empire. Adam McKay had that when he scoured through the many improvised lines of “Anchorman,” and co-created what will probably be known as the last movement of American blockbuster comedy. And he continued that touch with the unmitigated triumph “ The Big Short ,” venturing to educate moviegoers about the housing crisis using movie stars and furious monologues. But McKay is mightily thwarted by the larger scope of “Don’t Look Up,” a hybrid of his comedic and dramatic instincts that only dreams of being insightful about social media, technology, global warming, celebrity, and in general, human existence. A disastrous movie, “Don’t Look Up” shows McKay as the most out of touch he’s ever been with what is clever, or how to get his audience to care.
If “Don’t Look Up” deserves any award, it’s for the work of its casting director, Francine Maisler . This Netflix movie is packed with so many big, expensive names, and it often puts them all in the same room. One scene has Leonardo DiCaprio , Ariana Grande , Cate Blanchett , Tyler Perry , and Jennifer Lawrence sitting next to each other, with Scott Mescudi ( Kid Cudi ) on a video feed for good measure. The amount of star power on-screen is set up for a once-in-a-lifetime comedy free-for-all, but “Don’t Look Up” uses this to make one of many anti-provocative jokes about how celebrity messiness compels us more than the death of our planet. Get used to that rise of anticipation and crash of execution if you want to be unsurprised by "Don't Look Up."
The movie's first bungled joke concerns its biggest name, Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays a low-level astronomer from Michigan. McKay takes the nuclear energy within golden boy DiCaprio, the kind that gets him Oscar nominations year after year, and makes him swallow it so that he turns into a mildly amusing Will Ferrell character. The ulcers for DiCaprio’s Dr. Mindy are especially bad after his assistant Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) casually makes a horrific discovery: a comet is coming for planet Earth in six months and 14 days. They quickly want to let the world know, and realize in the coming days that people don’t care about bad news about the future.
Their initial audience for their news is the President of the United States, played by Meryl Streep . When she does finally take a meeting with them, she’s more concerned about her polling numbers, how things will look; an apocalypse won’t help the upcoming primaries. McKay begins to needle the viewer with the joke that no one cares about the end of the world as much the latest distracting scandal. There’s no respite offered from Jonah Hill , who plays a mildly funny character—her chief of staff, and sociopathic son—but is reduced to easy bro jokes. Like many characters, you can see the reflection of what it means, but the joke often ends at recognition. And because the movie’s editing is complicit in the short attention spans that McKay nonetheless rages against, it tends to intercut different framed pictures of Streep’s President Orlean with various celebrities, or hop from one scene to another while characters are talking mid-sentence.
Mindy and Dibiasky then take their message to the media, but the platform is a banter-heavy morning show (hosted by vacuous characters played by Perry and Blanchett) where the producers try to smooth their story into a cutesy scientific discovery in between the aforementioned Grande incident. Only one of the astronomers makes it out of the studio appearance without turning into a national meme—and no one takes their screed seriously—but it sets them on contrasting paths of popularity, becoming the media distraction themselves. Credit to moments when the chaos of "Don't Look Up" feels inspired, watching Leonardo DiCaprio use his Oscar-approved volume to scream “We’re all going to die” on a “Sesame Street”-like show is funny.
But of the many exciting names who are then wasted on this movie’s limited sense of humor, Blanchett is at the top of the list. She’s one of the best in the game, and McKay makes her plastic and cheap, and one of many characters who are not stretched out nearly enough in this high-art spoof. The same more or less happens to a forgotten Lawrence, or Streep, or Perry, or Melanie Lynskey , or Timoth é e Chalamet, as yet another grungy, lackadaisical, superficial pre-adult. And then there’s Rob Morgan , who plays a nothing sidekick to Lawrence and DiCaprio despite being just as good as them.
The plotting of “Don’t Look Up” isn't just anti-urgent, it also makes one constantly aware of what this movie is not doing. Aside from how it continuously makes you scrape the walls of its hollow comic sequences for a laugh, it does not say anything new about how misinformation became a political cause, or about how scandals are the true opiate for the masses, whether it involves a pop star or the president. It certainly has little to offer about the role technology plays in this, with Mark Rylance playing a half- Elon Musk , quarter-Joe Biden tech guru who calls the shots even more than POTUS. “Don’t Look Up” thinks it’s pushing many savvy political buttons, when it’s only pointing out the obvious and the easy, over and over.
McKay uses frustrating shorthand to create scope out of his scenario that concerns the whole world, but only when it cares to acknowledge it—the constant stock footage is so broad that it turns human existence into a generic nothingness (someone, lock him out of the stock!), and there’s little wit from its social media montages, which introduce a new hashtag after each public development, including the denier phrase that gives the movie its title. It’s an entertainer’s tired shtick dressed up as authorship—McKay has also made yet another talented cinematographer (in this case, Oscar winner Linus Sandgren ), bobble the camera for the sake of feigning energy (one shot in particular looks like the camera is dropped right before it cuts away).
It’s almost irrelevant that this is McKay’s worst film yet, because there’s something far more maddening about the promise of, the potential, and the importance that “Don’t Look Up” foists upon itself. This is, of course, about global warming, and how we’re not doing enough about it — a funny premise for a star-studded comedy with disturbing stake s. But McKay has filled this parable with hot air, wanting us to marvel at and then choke on its mediocre jokes.
Now playing in select theaters and available on Netflix on December 24.
Nick Allen is the Senior Editor at RogerEbert.com and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.
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Don't Look Up (2021)
Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky
Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy
Meryl Streep as President Janie Orlean
Cate Blanchett as Brie Evantee
Rob Morgan as Dr. Clayton 'Teddy' Oglethorpe
Jonah Hill as Jason Orlean
Tyler Perry as Jack Bremmer
Timothée Chalamet as Quentin
Ron Perlman as Colonel Ben Drask
Ariana Grande as Riley Bina
Kid Cudi as DJ Chello
Melanie Lynskey as June
Himesh Patel as Phillip
Writer (story by)
- David Sirota
- Linus Sandgren
- Hank Corwin
- Nicholas Britell
- Francine Maisler
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Don’t Look Up review – slapstick apocalypse according to DiCaprio and Lawrence
Adam McKay’s laboured satire challenges political indifference to looming comet catastrophe but misses out on the comedy
H aving long complained that movies aren’t engaging with the most vital issue of our time – the climate crisis – it’s perhaps churlish of me not to be glad when one comes along that does exactly that. But Adam McKay ’s laboured, self-conscious and unrelaxed satire Don’t Look Up is like a 145-minute Saturday Night Live sketch with neither the brilliant comedy of Succession , which McKay co-produces, nor the seriousness that the subject might otherwise require. It is as if the sheer unthinkability of the crisis can only be contained and represented in self-aware slapstick mode.
With knockabout hints of Dr Strangelove , Network and Wag the Dog, Don’t Look Up is about two astronomers discovering that a Mount Everest-sized comet is due in six months’ time to hit planet Earth and wipe out all human life. The scientists urgently present their findings to the White House, but find that the political and media classes can’t or won’t grasp what they are saying: too stupefied with consumerism, short-termism and social-media gossip, and insidiously paralysed by the interests of big tech. Leonardo DiCaprio plays nerdy, bearded astronomer Dr Randall Mindy, nervous of human interaction and addicted to Xanax. Jennifer Lawrence is his smart, emotionally spiky grad student Kate Dibiasky. Meryl Streep is the panto-villain president, Jonah Hill her son and chief-of-staff, and Mark Rylance is the creepy Brit tech mogul Sir Peter Isherwell.
The comet stands for the climate catastrophe, but the metaphor isn’t the problem. The clear danger of global heating means that it is no longer such a stretch to compare it to an Uluru -sized chunk of blazing rock heading our way. This is not like Mimi Leder’s 1998 thriller Deep Impact, which had a comparable story – it’s more conscious of its loftier satirical importance. But the pointed wackiness means that, with interesting exceptions, it’s not really working at its own chosen level of megaphone comedy, which is presented as the only workable medium for its politically serious and (justifiably) unfunny message.
Having said this, the pure, bizarre spectacle of the opening act is startling and based on fact. It really is official US government policy to deflect incoming asteroids by launching missiles at them , a point made by Werner Herzog in his recent documentary Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds . This policy is not in itself disturbing but, as this film suggests, what is worrying is that the erosion of our ability to react in time, to understand that something awful could happen is happening – right now. You get a sense of Randall and Kate’s suppressed delirium as they prepare to go on a TV show and find everyone chattering about a pop star’s failed relationship. They have taken the red pill. Time is running out for everyone else to take theirs.
There are some sharp political points to be made. Jonah Hill’s obnoxious political bro addresses his Trumpite base, describing what he sees as the three estates in today’s world: “There’s you, the working classes; there’s us, the cool rich, and there’s them …” and here he gestures vaguely at the woke left, whining about something as stupid as the end of the world.
Don’t Look Up finally upshifts into a mode of exaltation and transcendance, and I couldn’t help thinking of Lars von Trier’s 2011 planet-collision film Melancholia , which is similar. But for all its faults, Von Trier’s film chose a more interesting and disquieting mode of dark comedy (and I’m sorry that, in 2011, I didn’t see the connection with climate change). This film could have done something more convincing with that mode of reverse-vertigo hinted at in its title: that fear and willed blindness about what looms over us. But if the movie helps to do something about climate change, such critical objections are unimportant.
Don’t Look Up is in cinemas from 10 December and on Netflix from 24 December.
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The Crude Demagogy of “Don’t Look Up”
By Richard Brody
Adam McKay’s satire “Don’t Look Up” is a clever film that’s short on wit. The difference is that wit is multifaceted, like a gem that, however small, offers different glimmers at different angles. Cleverness exhausts itself in a single glint and then repeats itself to infinity.
“Don’t Look Up,” for the record, tells the story of the discovery of a huge comet that’s heading for a direct strike on Earth that would end life on the planet; the degraded journalistic environment that trivializes the discovery and minimizes the danger; and the feckless President whose self-interested blunders allow the comet to strike, catastrophically. It’s a raucous comedy in which a tale built of near-plausible elements is told by way of exaggerated character traits, absurd situations, and high-wattage star performances. It’s also a movie about the blighted mediasphere—yet, even with the best of intentions, the movie only adds to the blight.
The comet is discovered by Kate Dibiasky ( Jennifer Lawrence ), a graduate student in astronomy at Michigan State; its trajectory toward Earth is discovered by her adviser, Dr. Randall Mindy ( Leonardo DiCaprio ), and they calculate that it will strike in a mere six months. They reach out to NASA and are put in touch with Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), the head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (a real federal bureau, as a supertitle informs viewers), who rushes them to the White House to deliver the news in person to the President, Janie Orlean ( Meryl Streep ). Her political party isn’t specified (nobody’s is—there’s no reference to real-world politics in the film) but her actions resemble those of Donald Trump: she nominates a Supreme Court Justice of dubious qualification and sexual scandal, falsifies scientific data to seek advantage in the midterm elections, and leaves an underling’s public racist remarks unchallenged.
When President Orlean treats the evidence and the three scientists dismissively, they go public with the news that the world is about to end. Kate and Randall talk to journalists from the New York Herald (its logo uses the same typeface as the Times ) and go on a morning talk show, where they’re admonished to “keep it light.” Amid the quippy chat of the hosts, Jack ( Tyler Perry ) and Brie ( Cate Blanchett ), Kate and Randall’s apocalyptic warnings are brushed aside until Kate starts yelling on the air, making enemies of the hosts and becoming a derided social-media meme. When the President finds it politically expedient to do so, she mounts a mission to deflect the comet, exactly as the best science recommends—and then, at the urging of a tech billionaire named Peter Isherwell ( Mark Rylance ), she cancels the mission and lets Peter attempt to harvest an untold fortune in rare-earth minerals from the comet instead. Meanwhile, the public is divided between those who trust the science and those who call the comet a hoax—between realists who implore their neighbors to look up at the comet and acknowledge the looming menace, and denialists whose slogan lends the movie its title.
The movie’s comedic energy comes mainly from its asides and sidebars—from the brazen rich-bully snark of the President’s fratty, young chief of staff, Jason ( Jonah Hill ), who’s also her son, and the promotion of a disaster film called “Total Devastation” that’s scheduled for release on the day that that comet is expected to hit, to the Internet shitposter charging that “Jewish billionaires invented this comet threat so the government can confiscate our liberty and our guns,” and the national obsession with the love life of the pop star Riley Bina ( Ariana Grande ), who ultimately joins Kate and Randall at the “For Real Last Concert to Save the World,” where she croons a romantic ballad with such grimly hilarious lyrics as, “Get your head out of your ass, listen to the goddam qualified scientists. We really fucked it up . . . You’re about to die soon, everybody.”
The journalists at the Herald, rather than throwing their weight behind the scientists’ discovery of the killer comet and its impending strike, obsess about social-media engagement and quickly let the depressing story die; Peter does a staged product rollout, using children as near-robotic props, where an announcer cautions audience members not to make eye contact with him and to avoid “negative facial expressions.” In the talk-show green room, Kate rejects a dress that a stylist brings over, but Randall lets the stylist trim his beard even as he’s fending off a panic attack. The scene foreshadows his transformation into a television celebrity and a sort of nerdy sex object, who then gets co-opted into government service to give the corrupt Administration the cover of scientific legitimacy. The best of the riffs—because seemingly random and oblique yet ultimately capped with a one-liner of political psychology that’s deeper and more mysterious than anything else in the film—is the trivial twist of a three-star general (Paul Guilfoyle) who, outside the Oval Office, charges the scientists heftily for chips and water (which are supposed to be free).
It’s no surprise to learn that the actors improvised copiously, because the movie has a riffy and zingy feel to it. Yet the rapid editing of nearly arbitrarily composed images creates a straitlaced rigidity. The tone of improv comedy comes without the sense of risk; the one-liners are hammered into the confines of character and story like tiles in a grid, and the only excesses are a handful of eruptive, televised tirades that play like emblematic “Network” moments to rouse viewers’ fist pumps. What is surprising is that the script was written before the COVID pandemic—the movie is a startlingly accurate view of the willful and venal denialism that afflicted responses to the crisis at all levels of government and business, and that has been matched throughout by the cultlike rejection of medical counsel by individuals in all strata and sectors of society.
Those cognate details, and the fast comedic dialogue (the President’s vain babble, Brie’s coldly cynical bedroom banter), make “Don’t Look Up” stand out, at the very least, as an on-target political cartoon expanded to the scale of a grandiose mural, with all the pomposity and monotony that such an inflation suggests. The movie lives by its place in the discourse, such as that discourse is. It satirizes the trivializing flow of celebrity gossip and light-toned frivolity, of clickbait pushing aside investigative reporting and of tech moguls not only usurping government power but commandeering public discourse. Yet its own anti-aesthetic of neutral images and predigested narrative efficiency, its celebrity feast of star turns and flashy performances, and its simplistic anger-stoking and pathos-wringing mask the movie’s fundamental position of getting itself talked about while utterly eliding any real sense of politics or political confrontation. It is set largely in and around government, but suggests nothing like any political opposition, such as in Congress or state houses, to President Orlean’s actions and inaction regarding the comet. (The closest to it is the wishful radical populism of Orlean supporters’ spontaneous uprising at a rally where they realize they’ve been lied to.)
The movie’s built-in ambition appears to be simply crude demagogy, reaching an apotheosis in viewers who’ve just watched at home opening their poorly insulated windows and yelling into the street, “Climate change is real!,” without any demand of policy or awareness of actions that the need to slow it might demand. The blame goes on the Peter Isherwells of the world, who seek to profit from it, the Orleans, who deny it or manipulate it for the sake of power; it’s assumed that their lies and distortions are all that keep ordinary people from demanding action. There’s no sense of political psychology, of the tendency of people to look first to immediate personal interest and needs—whether employment or income, convenience or sustenance—and either consider climate change to be distantly abstract or suspect that their present-tense well-being would be sacrificed to climate-favorable policies.
Instead of a political movie, “Don’t Look Up” is a cynical one. It’s basically a Jill Stein movie, a shrug that there’s no difference between the parties, that government is in the corrupt pocket of business and that the élites of all sorts are indifferent to the country’s actual interests. (Though there’s no mention of parties, the movie pointedly shows a picture on the President’s desk showing her beaming side by side with Bill Clinton.)
Why does Hollywood tackle environmental calamity? Why do stars get involved in wildlife conservation? Why are there so few celebrities who put their name and their talent behind, say, voting rights—without which no progressive project such as the Green New Deal has the slightest chance of being signed into law? It’s not only because everyone loves animals, or because movie stars prefer to spend their vacations in the distant wild than in Maricopa County but because it would be impossible to make a film about the suppression of voting rights without considering whose rights are being abrogated, who’s doing so, and which categories of voters supports the measures. The critique of climate change, by contrast, allows the targeting of mega-businesses and political leaders while leaving individuals—meaning, potential moviegoers and ticket-buyers—outside the scope of criticism. In short, what Hollywood people don’t want to do is to critique a political party, because there goes half the potential box office.
In “Don’t Look Up,” the star of “Total Devastation” (played by Chris Evans) makes a promotional appearance wearing a pin of his own devising, a double-headed arrow pointing both up and down, which he explains as his effort to see both sides of the issue and overcome the nation’s divisions. What he’s really insuring is the preservation of a single, unified, indivisible mass of prospective moviegoers and ticket-buyers. “Don’t Look Up” may be aptly unambiguous regarding the notion and danger of climate change itself, but when it comes to the politics that underlie anti-environmental policies, McKay might as well be wearing that very pin.
The movie’s merits and flaws are independent of any public remarks by McKay and the movie’s co-creator, David Sirota, including of their tweets suggesting, respectively, that anyone who thinks negatively of it is unconcerned about climate change, and that its detractors are exactly the oblivious media fools that the film is lampooning. Such remarks should be understood as part of the ad campaign, as skew to the merits of the film itself—even if the filmmakers’ assertion that their zippy entertainment is a contribution to society at large is itself a defining feature of the movie’s demagogic aesthetic. Even Marvel executives weren’t vain enough to accuse critics of “ Avengers: Infinity War ” of endorsing Thanos’s apocalyptic madness.
More than the filmmakers’ tweets, what gives a clearer sense of the movie’s toxic effect in the mediaverse is the response of climate scientists to negative reviews of it. Climate scientists have endorsed the film enthusiastically as an accurate representation of the obstacles they face in attempting to persuade politicians, the public, and even journalists of the urgency of the crisis. Dr. Michael E. Mann, a climatologist who is DiCaprio’s friend and adviser, calls it “serious sociopolitical commentary posing as comedy.” The climate futurist Alex Steffen tweets about negative reviews as “hot takes written by jaded culture workers from an alternate universe” where climate catastrophe isn’t happening.
Seems to me that, if the scientists don’t want film critics to quibble with the science, the scientists should stop meddling with the art. Yes, I’m joking; but, no, I’m not. The failure of topicality in “Don’t Look Up” is, not least, that the movie’s cynically apolitical view of politics contributes to the frivolous and self-regarding media environment that it decries—starting with the very celebrity power that the movie marshalls to score its points. Its blustery hectoring and colossally wide purview is most notable for its omissions and its blind spots. Its civic ambitions reflect, above all, the inside-Hollywood tunnel vision that it mocks.
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Film Review: “Don’t Look Up” — A Pitch-Dark Satire that Dares to be Impudently Pessimistic
By Daniel Gewertz
The knee-jerk, hateful reviews of Don’t Look Up possess comments so outsized, and so beside the point, that they bear a resemblance to the oblivious thinking of the movie’s anti-science ostriches.
Don’t Look Up, directed by Adam McKay. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett. On Netflix
Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence in Don’t Look Up.
Don’t Look Up is a clever, unapologetically brash satire about a future America so consumed with celebrity worship, brain-numbing infotainment, social media popularity, and political gamesmanship that it refuses to take the impending destruction of planet Earth seriously. We’re not talking climate change here, though the parallel is obvious. Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) has irrefutable evidence that an unprecedentedly gigantic comet will wipe out Earth in precisely six months, 14 days. The chances of “planet extinction” are set at 99.78%.
“Call it 70% and let’s just move on,” says President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), who’s more bothered by the upcoming midterms and the unearthing of nude pics of her sexy boyfriend, a Supreme Court nominee.
Are you an unabashed pessimist about 21st-century America? Do you believe that we’ve reached a point that — to quote W.B. Yeats — “the center cannot hold”? And, most of all, are you in the apparent minority who understands that true satire is a purposeful exaggeration of reality? If so, I say just give this liberating, appropriately cynical, fitfully hilarious film a look.
Despite an abundance of cinematic virtues, Don’t Look Up has been met with more negative reviews than raves, and a Rotten Tomatoes rating of just 55%. Critics from all political segments of the mainstream media have joined the surprisingly ferocious attack on this expertly made comedy. The Wall Street Journal and Britain’s Guardian exhibited outright loathing; The Guardian ‘s Charles Bramesco went so far as to complain that the movie might “drive away any [anti-science] partisans who still need to be won over,” as if the film were some sadly tone-deaf BBC News Hour segment.
The newspapers and websites most joined at the hip to the movie industry — from Variety to the Hollywood Reporter — were so venomous, it’s as if they believe this film is a danger to the American dynasty and their own jobs. The word smug crops up in nearly every pan. Is it a mere matter of blaming the messenger? And yet, this movie is hardest on political elites, tech billionaires, and mass and social media — not your average American. Perhaps the underlying belief is that rich movie actors have no right to rock their gravy boat.
The National Board of Review, meanwhile, named Don’t Look Up one of the top movies of 2021. The Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Movie Awards gave it best picture nominations.
To put it in terms of cinematic style: The critics cannot appreciate a star-laden, pitch-dark satire that dares to be impudently pessimistic in vision and big in execution. If this film had a slower pace, a smaller budget, and a less famous cast it likely wouldn’t have been as good, or as funny, but it might have received more positive reviews. The obvious comparison here is Idiocracy (2006), a far smaller, daffier film — and certainly one more prescient, since it was released 10 years before the arrival of the idiot Trump-train. But being a low-budget Mike Judge production — a niche film — it was less dangerous.
My guess is that Don’t Look Up ‘s bitterly satiric stance threatens a middle-of-the road political complacency. It intimidates the reviewers’ apparent bedrock belief that our centrist, big-business establishment — be it left-leaning or right — will solve our real-life apocalypse movie: the global-warming disaster. That “profits over planet” mindset is a smugness that is killing us.
Admittedly, the satiric volume here — to use a Spinal Tap reference — is set at 11. But despite this volume, and a slightly excessive 2-1/4 hour length, Don’t Look Up is one of the best-executed comic movies in years. Its script bristles with witty, incisive details; its dramatic arc is effective. McKay is known for writing and directing The Big Short — one of the most lauded films of 2015 — as well as helming various funny but shallow comedies ( Anchorman, The Other Guys). He had a ’90s stint as SNL’s head writer, not one of the show’s best eras. Broad sketch comedy may have paved the way for McKay, but rest assured: this film has some subtleties.
The first few scenes — depicting the discovery of the comet’s size and destructive course — are not played for laughs. Dr. Randall Mindy, a Michigan State University astronomy professor (DiCaprio), and his assistant, doctoral candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), discover a comet of mind-blowing size that, according to repeated calculations, is headed straight for Earth. Their certainty and shock are well dramatized. The two scientists are soon whisked off to DC, and by the time we see them waiting outside the Oval Office, anxious to see the president of the United States, the film has set up a tension that is palpable.
And then, the satire hits. We’ve seen Streep portray quiet, dignified power before. This isn’t it. She plays this future POTUS as a shallow monster of self-satisfaction, surrounded by photos of herself arm-in-arm with Hollywood celebrities. In the Oval Office, her smug smile is ever ready to turn to bored irritation. What she pulls off here is a letter-perfect encapsulation of the rotting soul of America. But still, she’s funny. Her own son is her chief-of-staff, Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill has fun playing an asshole, but it’s the film’s lone one-note performance.)
As Dr. Mindy tries to tell the world of its impending destruction, DiCaprio portrays, at first, a collapse of composure — something that is seemingly the most deplorable sin in a media-ready society where a confident outer shell has vanquished our deeper understandings.
Dr. Mindy: “It will have the power of a billion Hiroshima bombs.”
Jason: “You’re breathing weird. It’s making me uncomfortable.”
DiCaprio’s character travels a plausible arc here: first, he devolves into panic; then, with media coaching, transforms into a smooth, fatherly TV science-guy while simultaneously entering the sexy highlife as the adulterous lover of America’s most watched news-magazine host (an astonishing Cate Blanchett.) And then, by film’s end, he has believably revivified his humanity. Lawrence’s Kate Dibiasky’s reactions to her plight — from tense to tumultuous to totally checked out — make similar sense. Despite the bigger-than-life satiric thrust, one is emotionally tied to the two main characters.
Meryl Streep in Don’t Look Up.
Blanchett’s part isn’t huge, but she’s still able to dig beneath the shell of a shallow media star. Brie is the sex-hungry host of The Daily Rip , a meretricious Good Morning, America –type show that has either replaced newscasts, or just murdered them in the ratings. She’s a slick, sinuous over-achiever, highly educated, utterly amoral. When faced with a potentially emotional situation — be it a new bedmate desiring some innocuous personal info, or a furious wife confronting the adulterous couple — Brie simply looks bored and asks if it is really necessary to “do” this part of the routine. Yet Blanchett is so alive to the moment she can perceptively mine a hidden ore of humanity, a long buried nugget. When Dr. Mindy and Brie part ways — and the doctor tells her he’d been close to feeling love for her — Blanchett’s Brie is visibly startled by the word “love”: a look of shocked wistfulness flits over her glossy countenance, as if she’d just remembered love as a concept hidden away in a childhood memory. And then her eyes dismiss the idea as sadly irrelevant, and she’s gone. It is the kind of subtlety that humanizes a wicked satire, but doesn’t defang it.
The character of Sir Peter Isherwell, the billionaire tech guru and essentially the world’s most powerful man, is also a gem. Mark Rylance plays him as a robotic Elon Musk/Mark Zuckerberg type. His god-like algorhythmic control is so great that he knows more about every human than they do about themselves — and also can predict the exact date and cause of each human’s eventual death. (That tidbit is used to hilarious effect in the closing scene featuring President Orlean.) When Dr. Mindy criticizes Isherwell’s plan to monetize the looming catastrophe — calling it the thinking of “a businessman” — the mogul goes berserk at the perceived mega-insult.
Ariana Grande, Timothée Chalamet, Rob Morgan, and Melanie Lynskey are all excellent in this beautifully cast comedy.
In the end, the knee-jerk, hateful reviews of Don’t Look Up possess comments so outsized, and so beside the point, that they bear a resemblance to the oblivious thinking of the movie’s anti-science ostriches.
True satire is often deadly at the box office. Even a masterpiece like Alexander Payne’s 1999 Election lost money . Hollywood’s most common version — satire lite (a lightly scathing comedy with a happy ending) — is a far easier sell. It suggests to the viewer that heaven exists. But if the characters aren’t likable, the details not standard movie realism, the ending not cheery, the charges are often: How smug! How unrealistic! Don’t Look Up is intended as an active spin on reality, and not a charitable one. True satire is anti-romantic. It should come with a warning: cynicism, in the service of truth, is no sin. Is it possible, in 2022, to be cheered up by a good film about the bad end of the world? The thought that society sucks and then you die isn’t uplifting, true, but a smart film such as Don’t Look Up proves to the pessimists that we have company! We are not alone! We are not crazy! There are others like us on this Earth.
For 30 years, Daniel Gewertz wrote about music, theater and movies for the Boston Herald , among other periodicals. More recently, he’s published personal essays, taught memoir writing, and participated in the local storytelling scene. In the 1970s, at Boston University, he was best known for his Elvis Presley imitation.
Great writing about a truly excellent film.
Thanks, Al. Great to hear from you. I remember sitting with you at the Shamrock Bar in Inman Square, Cambridge on the night of Election Day 1980, an hour after it was announced that Ronald Reagan was to be our next president. We thought it was the end of America and the world. And in a way, we were right. Now, there is no Shamrock, and Ronald Reagan is held up by the mainstream media as a good guy Republican, the unTrumpian hero. But the road to American and planetary ruin was paved that night 41+ years ago.
Great review: spot on! (But “algorhythmic”… hmm… not sure that’s a word!)
Well, but ‘algorithmic’ does, JD! So does algorithmically, in fact.
I agree it’s a better movie than the sourpusses will allow. But I would add you don’t mention the reason I forgave it some of its undeniable infantilism, namely the camera pointed toward the starry cosmos near the end. At that point the film outflanked its tiktok pessimism and delivered to me, anyway, a feeling of awe.
Agreed, especially in light of the current and literal unfolding of the Webb telescope. What new, amazing, and potentially frightening and awe-inspiring discoveries await us?
When Karl Rove once defiantly proclaimed about the Bush White House that “we create our own reality,” Americans who cherish our democracy were not properly terrified by the notion that one of our two major political parties had essentially abdicated any and all responsibility toward preserving that democracy. The advent of Trump America put that notion on steroids and hastened the hellish rampage of lies, misinformation and denialism that pervades half of this nation. It is ugly and dark and stress-inducing in ways we of a certain age never dreamed we’d experience. So when a filmmaker decides to take direct aim at the maelstrom with a dark satire, one that forces us to examine the insanity but gives us the release of laughter in the face of doom, it should be celebrated. Don’t Look Up is not a great movie but it is an important one at an opportune time. People condemning it are taking the wrongs things way too seriously.
Glad to read this review and the follow-up comments. I’m on board.
Trying to figure out why the film didn’t ‘hit’, the way The Big Short’ did. It might be an editing thing – too much slam bam; story kind of implodes with its unrelenting humor. But, I loved the writing and wish, above all, that the groups being satirized see themselves. (Right. Like that’s going to happen…)
It is a ridiculous over the top rightly criticized by critics. If the critics are saying they don’t like it then that must mean something…do we really need overpaid, delusional, totally not in reality rich celebs telling us what to think? Probably not…
Maybe not — but maybe so — when celebrities are amplifying what the leading scientists have been warning us about for decades, forecasts of disaster that have not been receiving sufficiently serious attention from our “overpaid, delusional, totally not in reality” leaders and mainstream media.
Apparently we really do need that.
At the very end, when the personality on Patriot News says that the only issue people are paying attention to at that moment was “Topless urgent care centers” I thought, yeah, that pretty much sums up our news coverage of not only climate change , but the forty-year evisceration of our democracy (true journalists, especially investigative ones, are a dying breed and we have been left with personalities in journalists’ clothing).
A bit of me feels like the movie itself is the dinner among friends for those of us who do not see us getting out of this. As we lose democracies, we lose our best chance to manage climate change. So, cheers.
It’s a good movie not a great one, as many have said. But it’s entertaining. Far from constantly funny– the writing only occasionally rises to either very apt, or hilarious. But the simple Cassandra story works –mostly, I think, because it is essentially correct about the terrifying things happening in our world. One thing it is not is celebrities telling us what to think– these are actors, doing their actual job, very well. They may be well known actors, but they are doing what they do best– getting the ideas of writers and a director across to us– and it is writers who do the job of dramatizing, or humorizing, a viewpoint. I have no idea if this movie will have any affect on our urgencies–probably not. It won’t be alone in this. And I agree with the reviewer– that extreme negativity about the film has probably got political motivation at its base.
Excellent film! Completely concur with Gewertz’ review. I just hope the people that need to see both, actually do!!
It was a great movie but too sad and depressing. I am a scientist and I saw so many scenes not as parody but totally factual events I have actually lived. In the end, I do wonder if we deserve this planet, and if as a species we deserve to be here. Anyways, just talking to the vacuum.
Thank you so much for this insight. It’s so rare to get a scientist’s perspective on a film like this and yet so very necessary at this point in time.
No wonder journalists have slated it. They’ve produced a hundred excuses not to watch the climate breakdown satire Don’t Look Up: it’s “blunt”, it’s “shrill”, it’s “smug”. But they will not name the real problem: it’s about them. The movie is, in my view, a powerful demolition of the grotesque failures of public life. And the sector whose failures are most brutally exposed is the media. –George Monbiot, The Guardian
One thought I had while writing the piece was that the film-critics who absolutely loathed it were not all right-wing capitalists who’d love to squash the ecology movement, but mainstream types who, like many millions of others, don’t wish to be rudely reminded that we have already arrived at the birth of the end. In other words, the smug and the blind… but not the extremists who claim global warming is all overblown lefty radical nonsense. It must be unnerving to get reminded that maybe you, and surely your grandchildren, will suffer and die because of your cowardice and blasé numbskull obliviousness. So, sure, blame it all on rich movie stars!
You touched on it briefly in the review but it really hit me how the response of reviewers to this film is a perfect, seemingly unwitting reflection of all the establishment types in the film: My God, do we really have to be hit over the head with all this depressing mess! Lighten up! Well, whether the film changes anybody’s mind is up for debate but this film simply had to be made. I would also like to mention a non-satirical but parallel vision of society in a made-for PBS film, The Peoples Republic of Desire. A truly sad and terrifying view of China’s digital idol-making world.
Vincent Czyz mentions climate activist George Monbiot, so I just wanted to point out that Monbiot’s famous breakdown on “Good Morning Britain” last year now seems like an eerie harbinger of Jennifer Lawrence’s crack-up on “The Daily Rip” in the movie. And therein lies the rub for the film’s detractors: how can “Don’t Look Up” be “over the top” and “smug” when so many of its turning points mimic real-life incidents? I agree, btw, with Daniel Gewertz’s suggestion that film critics unconsciously saw themselves in its sights – hence the vituperative pans; this insight has already begun to generate its own discussion online, btw. (Film critics don’t support climate denial, yet can’t see how they’re part of the system supporting it – discuss!!) But I would take some issue with a few of Gewertz’s comments. The movie is often great – no question – but it IS choppy, and there’s a kind of vagueness to the satire at its core. In my opinion, Streep never quite finds her feet in the role of President Orlean, and I think it’s partly because McKay hasn’t delineated the role as sharply as he might have. You could describe Orlean as a Trump-Hillary hybrid; one part nepotist redneck, one part Hollywood/Silicon Valley glad-hander. But how exactly do these two parts come together . . ? Orlean’s persona never quite taps into the tribal/racist glue that keeps Trump’s coalition together – nor is McKay willing to take the gloves off when it comes to the Democratic Party’s financial romance with Silicon Valley. So there’s a kind of void at the heart of the movie – but still much (MUCH) to love about it. I’m heartened to see it’s back to #1 on Netflix, with 150 million viewing hours last week alone. That’s what, maybe 70 million viewers? Sounds like a global hit to me . . .
Love your parenthetical comment on film critics denying they are part of the system. I don’t think there are two equal parts to Streep’s prez. There’s far more Hillary than Trump, but not meant to be a specific statement on the Dem’s Silicon Valley corrupt romance. Her character is slippery and slimy as today, just two steps further down smug road.
Well, not to go on and on about it, but when Streep is eventually shown sporting a MAGA-style hat at a redneck rally, it’s hard to believe she’s not intended to reflect Trump in some way. Her dumb-as-f son likewise channels Don Jr. and Eric far more than Chelsea. And while I’m not at all disagreeing with you about the Clinton slime factor, there’s a famously studious, by-the-numbers core to Hillary that Streep also doesn’t tap. I actually think a character working the common ground between Clinton and Trump was an inspired idea; I just don’t think Streep and McKay give it the same brilliant edge they brought to so much else in this remarkable film.
The most entertaining aspect of this mediocre film is the subsequent civil war between America’s blue and red political tribes — a war about a movie, for Chrissake. Led by General Chicken Little, the Blue tribe squawks that global warming is going to destroy the world in “six months and fourteen days.” General Little and his hens have been bawk-bawking this alarm for approximately 52 years. The red tribe responds by digging in even deeper, denying objective reality itself. Why? Because tribalism, like religion, is a powerful drug.
Glad he is entertained. This is the kind of muddled, curse-on-both-your houses thinking that is about finding a way to blame the left for being alarmist. If only those who believed in climate change had been reasonable instead of a bunch of Chicken Littles — curse them! Yes, there is objective reality — but it has to sold in a palatable way to the non-tribal. A marketing problem!
Reputable scientists since the ’70s have talked about the slow but sure progression of Climate Change. There has been an ongoing controversy about just how fast changes were going to come about. Looks like the transformation may be happening at a quicker clip than predicted: “Last year saw the hottest ocean temperatures in recorded history, the sixth consecutive year that this record has been broken, according to new research.”
I tried to watch it the first time, but gave up after half an hour. I managed to finish it the second time. The film is too clever by three-quarters. Meryl Streep’s presence alone (after her bizarre “Laundromat” turn) threatens to reduce the film to a stunt. The rest of the big names in the cast make good that threat. It reminds me of Mars Attacks more than Dr. Strangelove . McKay’s buckshot approach can’t possibly hit any of the targets he aims for. Rejecting subtlety throughout the film, he strangely opts for sentimentality in a family dinner finale worthy of a Saturday Evening Post cover—without Norman Rockwell’s edge. Soon after this, the film tries to throw a punch via the tramp stamp revealed on Streep’s body double’s exposed lower back. A weak joke follows the endless credits. McKay’s lack of comic timing is the pay-off.
This movie is terrible. I only attempted watch it because Leonardo had the lead role. But unfortunately it was a huge Titanic. In the sinking way. To me, it made fun of our joke of a government, which, without a doubt is true. But really. The president, and the presidents “coke head” right hand. The best part, is when she was killed.
Too much carping at critics, Dan, for not sharing your opinion. I am one of those lame critics who didn’t think much of this movie, but my disappointments come from the left and hopefully not from the mainstream. Much of the movie is smug and obvious and badly done comedy. I loathed all the stuff with Meryl as President. Surprisingly it came together for me in the hardest part to pull off, the apocalytpic ending. Otherwise, pretty mediocre, and proof once again that a great theme doesn’t necessarily make a good film. I recall the NY Times critic raving on and on about the end-of-the-world 1950 film, On the Beach, predicting it would be remembered forever, generation after generation. Wrong! Nobody remembers this crappy movie with a stirring Big Theme. I predict the same fate for Don’t Look Up . There were at least sixty better films in 2021.
I would not call Don’t Look Up smug so much as lazy. It is a slip slide mix of sketch comedy, broad satire, and sentimentality. The script could have been much sharper. (The fossil fuel industry, for example, a fount of climate change misinformation and political corruption, is pretty well given a pass.) Perhaps, as more irreparable damage is done to the earth and its vulnerable populations, we will generate comedies as scathing as Dr Strangelove. Though I think dramas that tap into the absurdist comedy of Beckett and Ionesco would be more fitting. A writer just needs to rejigger a sentiment in Endgame : “Nothing is funnier than extinction, I grant you that…”
We are moving in that tragic direction. This from the January 10 Guardian on US carbon emissions: “We expected a rebound but it’s dismaying that emissions came back even faster than the overall economy,” said Kate Larsen, a partner at Rhodium Group, the independent research firm that conducted the analysis. “We aren’t just reducing the carbon intensity of the economy, we are increasing it. We are doing exactly the opposite of what we need to be doing.”
I take critic James Agee’s position: films are mass entertainment and don’t need to be complete successes to be of use . Let us hope that this is the first of a number of movies, documentaries, plays, books, etc that take up the slack left by the mainstream news media, which has found that covering the climate crisis in a sustained fashion is not good for ratings. (It can be so alarming .) If the popular success of Don’t Look Up — and the conversations it is spurring — inspires other efforts, it will be worth remembering …
Well, that’s classic Gerald Peary right there.
It may be labeled a movie review, but it is clear from the pull-quote at the start to the multiple paragraphs at its center that this is a view of the reviews. That is its main thrust. When a movie this well-crafted and timely is massacred by so many critics with such vitriol and venomous platitudes, it makes me think that something very odd is going on here. and that’s what I wrote about. To be clear, I have not been a semi-regular movie critic since about 1995, and with the plunge of quality in both big-budget and indy films in recent years I certainly don’t want to be one now. But I am well-schooled enough in 20th century cinema to realize the oddity of your bringing up a deadly serious, plodding social drama such as “On the Beach” (Stanley Kramer, 1959) in reference to the satiric comedy “Don’t Look Up.” Let us fight about directors, critics and genres another time! But I hope we can avoid the ancient fights from the ’60s about Grade B films being better than Grade A or vice versa. Now we have 100 million dollar budgets for Grade B schlock, and substantial takes on big social themes are nearly nonexistent.
Well guys, from the perspective of a South African (who LOVED the movie) all the above comments prove there are still a lot of right-thinking people in America. All is not lost!
Thank goodness for this review – I watched last night, and aside from it being about 30 mins too long, thorough enjoyed it for all the reasons you state. This is why I only read the reviews *after* watching/reading and deciding for myself. But I’ll definitely stay tuned for yours in future
Thanks, Shelley. No matter how many oddball reviews are out there, from critics and fans alike, at least it is better than the old days, when all that was available, pre-Internet, for non-current films, was Leonard Maltin’s annual book, where “Sophie’s Choice” was given 2 & 1/2 stars, but a soapy western called “The Naked Spur” got 3 & 1/2.
The critics who carped about “Don’t Look Up” might well cringe at watching this recent side-by-side comparison of one of the film’s “satiric” sequences and a recent British television segment on climate change . . . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzzGlyeI2WM
Coming in late to the party here, but this is the single-handedly best drive-by analysis of this amazing movie. Truth is, almost everyone took some form of offense to “Don’t Look Up”. And I get that, truly, I do. It’s acerbic and pointed – just as much as it’s an equal opportunity offender. It’s equally as vicious towards deep blue as it is deep red, it’s unrelenting on today’s op-ed driven ‘news for dipshits’ journalism, social media driving the importance of news, hell, even the name of the liquor store “DrinkMo!” is a harsh indictment (to say nothing of the $700 shovels, the importance of which we’ll never understand).
Is it a perfect film? I don’t know – that’s so relative. But it’s unrelentingly honest and it’s got some very sharp teeth. It’s the doomsday version of “Idiocracy”, who’s crucial flaw is the assumption humankind is going to make it another 100 years (much less 500).
I really appreciate your analysis. Most of the negative reviews are from people who feel oddly singled out… or from people who can’t appreciate just how accurate the hyperbole of it all is. Like Idiocracy? It’s not saying anything that’s not already true.
This movie was brilliant in the sense that human-driven climate change should be just as obvious as a giant rock about to fall on our heads.
It was also a total lost cause from the get-go because it was always guaranteed to fail to reach and educate the ostriches who defecate on peer-reviewed science in favor of worshipping a Bronze Age book of fairy tales, and believe that an invisible wizard from beyond the sky will save us all with his magical powers if we’re just pious enough.
At this point, there is just one thing that will save this world’s future: America falling off the top of the mountain, as quickly as possible. Say what you want about China’s human rights record, but Beijing would never let brain-dead religious fools or moneygasming businessmen to stop them from nuking that comet out of the sky. Neither would any other national government not located in a city called Washington. The level of self-destructive stupidity our nation has reached is beyond any possibility of hope or redemption until our time to be in control of the world has passed. Even then, I give us a 50% chance of just socially imploding from within.
If the leadership of humanity is spread between Chinese, Indians, Europeans, and every other civilized nation in the world, with America out of the way, the entire planet has a far better chance than it does right now.
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What goes up, must come down: Why it’s OK to hate Don’t Look Up
Leonardo dicaprio and jennifer lawrence’s festive flick is the latest film to stoke the debate about critiquing art with serious themes. but you should be able to say when something’s rubbish, even if it is about the climate crisis, writes louis chilton, article bookmarked.
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Setting a bad president: Meryl Streep as Janie Orlean in the Netflix climate satire ‘Don’t Look Up’
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I n another life, Don’t Look Up could have really taken the world by storm. Film critics and cinephiles have spent years bemoaning the death of the studio comedy. Here was a movie that served as both – a star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio , Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep that tackled what might be today’s most pressing issue: the global climate crisis. Don’t Look Up shot to the top of Netflix ’s rankings after its Christmas Eve release and has been hailed by many in the scientific field for its right-minded messaging.
But not everyone was convinced of its greatness. Critically, the film went down like a flank steak at a vegan barbecue, currently holding a paltry 55 per cent rating on reviews site Rotten Tomatoes. The reason why is no great mystery. It’s just not very good. The Guardian described it as “laboured” and “self-conscious” . Rolling Stone called it “one man’s wake-up-sheeple howl into the abyss” and “a disaster movie in more ways than one”. Many others were no kinder.
What’s interesting, however, is what came next: the backlash-to-the-backlash. Don’t Look Up ’s fans and some of its creators this week took to social media to defend its dubious merits. This was a case of right vs wrong: virtuous environmentalists against the snooty critical elite. But moral conviction shouldn’t insulate any film from fair and honest criticism – least of all when that film is a broad and pugnacious comedy like this. If you were swinging the hatchet at An Inconvenient Truth , it would be reasonable to ask whether you had an agenda. If you hated Don’t Look Up , you’ve more likely just got a sense of humour.
There’s nothing in Don’t Look Up ’s premise that’s particularly objectionable. For those that didn’t devour it over the festive period, the film focuses on a pair of astronomers (DiCaprio and Lawrence) who struggle in vain to convince the world of an impending catastrophe: a giant comet hurtling towards Earth. Impeding the planet’s salvation are a number of infuriating factors – a venal, scandal-hit and unmistakably Trump-ish president (Streep), a dispassionate tech billionaire ( Mark Rylance ) and the whole infrastructure of the US’s shallow news media, personified by talk show hosts Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett) and Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry). It’s all perfectly well-meaning – but the execution is too broad and condescending. Streep is lousy, as is Rylance, whose calamitous, feathery performance seemed to beg his friends from the theatre world to stage an intervention. And for a comedy, perhaps its greatest offence is that there are almost no laughs. It’s no wonder the critics got up in arms.
The vast majority of people who watched Don’t Look Up will likely be blissfully unaware of this tedious discourse. For media obsessives, though, the last week has been a frantic tennis match of think pieces and dyspeptic tweets, the hot-take economy humming like the market floor at the end of Trading Places . Forbes , for instance, published a piece entitled “Why Sneering Critics Dislike Don’t Look Up , But Climate Scientists Love It” . The film’s story writer, David Sirota, waded into the debate, retweeting a piece called “Critics of Don’t Look Up Are Missing the Entire Point”, and declaring: “You’re not ‘smart’ by laughing at people trying to fix stuff...This culture of snark is part of what’s killing the world.”
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The film’s director, Adam McKay , did the same. McKay was best known for his broad Noughties laugh-fests like Anchorman and Step Brothers before pivoting to overtly political pseudo-comedies like The Big Short and Vice . As an executive producer of Succession , he is partly responsible for the sharpest TV satire – and the best series, period – in years. But after Don’t Look Up ’s critical castigation, he came out swinging, writing: “If you don’t have at least a small ember of anxiety about the climate collapsing (or the US teetering) I’m not sure Don’t Look Up makes any sense. It’s like a robot viewing a love story.”
The thing is, film critics are not supposed to assess a film’s moral worth. They are simply supposed to judge it as a piece of art or entertainment. Entirely right-minded and worthy films can also be terribly made, just as great films can sometimes bear problematic elements. It’s not an either/or situation, mind. Jaws was a film that eloquently conveyed the lunacy of government obstinacy in the face of a public safety crisis. It just also happened to be blisteringly fun to watch. Nonetheless, it’s crass to conflate disliking a film’s creative merits with opposing its axiomatically agreeable message. (A generous reading would suggest that’s not what McKay and Sirota are saying, though many of the film’s fans have been far more explicit on this point, outright accusing detractors of climate crisis denialism).
Trollywood A-listers: Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio and Timothee Chalamet in ‘Don’t Look Up’
Don’t Look Up ’s comic aspirations are clear – the gags fall flat but keep coming, a pile of lemmings beneath the face of a cliff. But its defenders seem to wish the film to be judged not as a satire but as a manifesto. It brings to mind Stewart Lee’s sarcastic retort to an audience applauding a political joke of his: “I’m not interested in laughs. What I’m interested in is a temporary liberal mass consensus.” Even if we were to review the film specifically through the lens of its rhetorical effectiveness, though, it comes up short. Yes, many of its satirical targets are deserving of a kicking, but Don’t Look Up offers little in the way of hope, little to energise viewers into activism. It is as bleak and despairing a portrait of environmental crisis as Paul Schrader’s First Reformed – though it doesn’t seem to know it.
It is hard to suppress the feeling that we are completely impotent in the face of climate catastrophe in the UK. Climate protesters are often vilified in the media; so much of the global political establishment seems unwilling to commit to the sort of radical change needed to save our planet. In this sense, the central metaphor of Don’t Look Up is chillingly relatable. But that doesn’t make it a good film. We don’t have to pretend otherwise, just for the sake of appearing righteous – indeed, film critics have a professional obligation not to. It really is as simple as that.
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