Review: Netflix’s Climate Satire Not Worth a Look

Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” lacks comedy and depth

By Collin Chesak, Current Staff

The Academy recently gave “Don’t Look Up” four Oscar nominations including Best Picture. However, if audiences are looking for an award-worthy film, they should look elsewhere. 

The film follows Dr. Randall Mindy, an esteemed astronomy professor, and Kate Dibiasky, a doctoral student, who discover a world-ending comet. After sharing their data with NASA, they must convince the arrogant President of the United States, Janie Orlean, to take action. 

The Netflix movie is a satire on the climate change crisis and substitutes a comet for global warming. The film correctly blames the inaction on the climate crisis on how the demands of social media have made Americans distracted by timely narratives rather than the actual issues at hand. 

Director Adam McKay attacks gossip journalists, desaturated news networks, profit-oriented tech CEOs, and power-hungry politicians in a scattershot criticism of the perpetrators behind our toxic political culture that leads to anti-environmentalist behavior. 

These perpetrators are written in the ridiculous sensationalist style, seen in earlier McKay films like “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.” The film’s villainous characters are initially funny but have little depth due to McKay’s focus on ridiculing their actions.

The lack of depth wouldn’t be a major detriment if McKay didn’t spend too much time with his villains. However, the movie regurgitates many of the jokes aimed at the villains and their scenes become increasingly laborious.

Adam McKay, writer-director of “Don’t Look Up.” Photo courtesy of Red Carpet Report, via Wikimedia Commons.

The film is a large offering with its runtime of 145 minutes which could have been a well-distributed dish if it chose to flesh out its main characters and not the relentless shenanigans of the freakish elite. 

Dr. Mindy’s arc of corruption and regret is completed in a streamlined fashion that makes his motivations unclear. His later scenes feel unearned as he quickly goes from a normal family man to a hypocritical pleasure seeker back to a family man in literally three or four scenes. 

Jennifer Lawrence’s promising portrayal of enraged college student Kate Dibiasky is completely sidelined during the second half of the film and is instead given an unnecessary side plot with an anti-establishment rebel named Yule. This subplot repeats messaging that is echoed in Mindy’s storyline and it seems to only serve the purpose of giving Lawrence more screen time.

Further frustration is added by a brief interaction with Dibiasky’s parents which could have been a more interesting storyline because it would have featured interactions with average people who are not major players involved in the central conflict. Instead, uninvolved civilians are portrayed as mindless cronies who are zombified by their phones and President Orleans. 

The film has great technical elements, such as its stunning visual effects, vivid cinematography by Robert Richardson and a tremendous score from Nicholas Britell. The movie’s cast features the likes of Leonardo Dicaprio, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance and Cate Blanchett. The cast brings their A-game, and flaws in their portrayal seem to be the result of McKay’s poorly calculated screenplay. 

McKay wants to make an impactful movie about global warming, but the movie both lacks the pacing to give its story a comedic punch and doesn’t have the depth to create contemplative catharsis. 

It is disappointing that McKay seems to be distracted by the obvious inhumanity of the elite. He fails to dig in to the real meat of this story which lies in the motivations and views of everyday people. If this movie took the time to develop the motivations of the bystanders, we might gain a better understanding of these issues.

“Don’t Look Up” is too busy yelling for change to do the work it takes for a film to spark it.

(Top image is official publicity material.)

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