Sometimes when you watch a movie you can immediately tell that’s it’s going to be divisive, that when it’s over some people are going to think it’s fantastic and some are going to think it’s complete drivel, with very few opinions falling in between. When the credits rolled on Don’t Look Up, it was clear this was going to be one of those movies. It was also clear that I was pretty firmly in the camp that loved it.
The movie opens on Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), a Michigan State grad student who is doing work examining the night sky when she discovers what seems to be a new comet. She informs her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), and the pair celebrate with her classmates. The celebration quickly turns sour however, when they calculate the comet’s projected trajectory and determine that it is on a collision course with Earth. They quickly notify the authorities who fly them out to Washington to meet with the President (Meryl Streep), who ignores them for an entire day to deal with a scandal and then more or less dismisses them after she finally does give them an audience.
This leads the pair, along with the head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office Dr. Teggy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), to launch a campaign to leak the story to the press, where they are greeted with a further lack of concern from both the media and the general public, who are much more invested in the relationship status of a pair of celebrities. Ultimately, the President’s worsening scandal leads her to decide that paying attention to the comet would now be politically expedient, and so a large-scale plan is put in place to divert it away from Earth.
While the satire here is about as subtle as a New York Post headline, it is also frighteningly on point and often very funny. The sprawling cast are all doing excellent work, with Lawrence, DiCaprio, and Streep especially nailing their roles. Most of the characters are smarmy, self-interested, and can border on delusional, in what feels like a depressingly accurate way, but there are still a few you will want to root for. Watching talking heads and random people on the street debate whether or not the comet is real and whether or not anything should be done about it makes the movie particularly timely, given how things have gone with the handling of COVID-19, but this film was written before anyone even knew what that was, and is instead trying to hammer home the urgency of the climate crisis, which is made clear by the nature footage smartly interspersed throughout. It is a message that many people need to hear, though it is debatable whether the acerbic tone of this movie is the best way to get it out. I found it to be one of the funnier movies of the year, even if it does leave one feeling pretty down about humanity afterwards, but I suspect that there will be many who very strongly disagree with me. ★★★★★
Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug content.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor