Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
DON’T LOOK UP
Rated R, 145 minutes
Director: Adam McKay
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Timothée Chalamet, Melanie Lynskey, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, Ron Perlman, Paul Guilfoyle
In DON’T LOOK UP, filmmaker Adam McKay takes very real subject matter like the climate and COVID crises and captures it all through his hallmark satirical lens, turning these world-wide catastrophes into a star-studded, hilarious allegory centered on a meteor hurtling towards Earth. Acting as a passionate plea, a horror-comedy for doomsdayers and McKay’s spin on DR. STRANGELOVE, this outrageously funny feature gets the urgency of its neurosis and message across while avoiding the dreaded “too soon” and “too obvious” monikers. It’s absolutely uproariously on-point.
Michigan State grad student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) is conducting routine studies late one night when she spots a comet no one has seen the likes of before. She rings up tenured astronomy Professor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a few other students to celebrate. But their overwhelming sense of happiness at the monumental discovery soon sours when their calculations reveal it’s headed directly towards Earth. The 5-10km wide comet is projected to cause an extinction-level event occurring in 6 months. Time is of the essence as they race to alert the authorities – first helpful Dr. Virgil Thorpe of NASA (Rob Morgan) and then the White House.
However, the trio are strung along in Washington, D.C. by bumbling General Themes (Paul Guilfoyle), who lies to them about snacks (spawning the film’s best running gag) and the President’s stiff schedule. And when conservative President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her insufferable brown-nosing son, chief-of-staff Jason (Jonah Hill), finally do see them the following day, they’re greeted with a bunch of bureaucratic obstacles suggested by the leader and her incompetent underlings, undermining Kate and Randall’s findings. Kate and Randall then take their data to the news media where again they’re met with inept folks, like morning show journalists Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry) and Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett), who’s got a thing for the very married professor. As the situation becomes more pressing, Kate and Randall’s anxieties and grief take them in different directions.
McKay, who’s working from a story co-written by David Sirota, does an excellent job of keeping all the metaphorical plates spinning in this sprawling ensemble piece. All of the frustrations aired are as strikingly familiar as they are funny. He positions scientists as the true heroes and the news media and government as a cadre of careless dum-dums, which is a commendable, if not obvious choice. Secondary and tertiary storylines aren’t dealt short shrift. They complement the primary story as they deal with the societal distractions that stand to impede the world’s attention, like the launch of a billionaire tech genius’ (Mark Rylance, who chews the scenery) new phone and a massive pop star’s (Ariana Grande) breakup with her equally famous musician boyfriend (Kid Cudi). Tucked away in its margins are two noteworthy performances by Melanie Lynskey, who plays Randall’s long-suffering, quietly confident wife June, and Timothée Chalamet, who plays zen skater boi Yule. They bring a lot of nuance and humanity, grounding the more outrageous elements like Streep’s lampooning of calculating conservatives. The situational comedy birthed from Kate and Randall’s Chicken Little-esque conundrums is equal parts funny and enraging. While they could use a tad more fleshing out in the way of character development, they are given arcs and lean, clearly defined motivations.
Editor Hank Corwin speaks with visual fluency when it comes to heightening the comedy within each scene and transitioning out of it with a fiery energy. He’s a master at the art of the smash cut. It snaps us awake. Grande and Cudi’s duet “Just Look Up” earns top marks, pulling double duty as a song that moves their subplot along, but also has hysterical lyrical zingers (“Turn off the shitbox news”). Composer Nicholas Britell’s score is perfectly sublime, gifting the picture with a jazzy, kitchen-sink freneticism that’s audibly married to the subtext. Particularly when the tone masterfully shifts in the third act, his primary theme unspools brilliantly, transforming into a solemn, stripped down sound, augmenting the heartrending intimacy of these precious climactic moments.
DON’T LOOK UP opens in select theaters on December 10. It will be available to stream on December 24.