Adam McKay’s bombastic, erratic, cocaine-induced directorial style builds towards a timely cataclysmic message. Don’t Look Up zooms in on the societal climate we live in today covering particular aspects such as the social media age and misinformation. There is a persistent spotlight on the fixation of our current human flaws which may become overbearing but McKay places enough heart to showcase our bright humanistic qualities.
Don’t Look Up follows Post-Grad Astronomy student (Jennifer Lawrence) and tenured Professor (Leonardo DiCaprio) as they discover a large comet headed straight to earth to cause an extinction level event – however, no one really seems to care. At its core, the plot is simple and enjoyable enough to witness how events pan out; on the surface, a loud and powerful message that is desperate to be heard. Appreciating McKay’s films over the years has become an acquired taste as his distinct style blends with a clear political agenda; not necessarily a bad thing, but something that can be difficult to enjoy if you don’t agree with the message. Crafted with a satirical edge, Don’t Look Up directly dissects the worst traits in humanity and doesn’t look to provide any subtlety to its messaging. There is no shame in that but the message isn’t really targeting a specific group, everyone is a victim of the vitriol here and for some, it may feel personal or tiresome. The film acts as an allegory towards the current climate change crisis and you can feel the degree of anger and frustration of the world’s response throughout the direction and writing of this film; McKay makes his passion abundantly clear.
Despite its naturally unsettling nature, McKay’s satirical outlook on humanity’s flawed societal and political climate works on all levels. Identifying pockets inside a saddening reality to insert comedy is a specialty of McKay’s and Don’t Look Up may just have the best usage of that. If one were to seriously assess this film, they’d realise the dramatical impact the comedy has on this film’s narrative and its messaging. It just blends so well with the film; perhaps, McKays best efforts here so far. There is zero doubt that this is one of the greatest cast ensembles of all-time. Seriously, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Timothee Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi (Kid Cudi), and it goes on. How does McKay juggle such an act? Well he orchestrates this incredible ensemble as any film does which is, actors and they serve the story through performance.. There are no real stand-outs, no scenes specifically designed to earn an Academy Award nomination and nothing truly outstanding from any individual cast member. McKay injects such realism into everyone’s character and the cast own their roles without trying to make it performance-driven.
Don’t Look Up will naturally be divisive among people as it directly points the finger at the viewer and says ‘What are you doing! Why don’t you care!’. McKay’s films are polarizing due to his writing style which usually places the message at the forefront of everything and lets character and the narrative slide comfortably in the background. While it is nice to see Don’t Look Up have an extremely potent message blended in well-timed comedy, the reality is, if your views and beliefs don’t align with the films then it makes it a lot harder to enjoy the film as a whole. Will the message of the film work for you? Well, only you can answer that.
Mckay’s films never truly shine on the technical front as the editing style dominates the screen with smash cuts. However, Don’t Look Up completely outshines his previous film in Vice when it comes to its cinematography. Often using a handheld camera adds further tension and anxiety to the quickly escalating events unfolding in its script. McKay understands that this doesn’t need to be a beautiful and picturesque piece as he shoots in a way that blends fittingly with the erratic nature of the film. There is a surprising amount of VFX in the film and the quality may not particularly be high-grade like $200 million blockbusters but it is never really a distraction and used sparingly. Costuming, hairstyling and makeup are all used very effectively by adding some character by providing unique and distinguishable features to each character. Written by Nicholas Britell, Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi feature in an original song that is effectively timed as it is outrageously funny. Britell incorporates a heavy jazzy quartet which establishes the tone right from the beginning and subtly blends the music that adds to the high anxiety. Using musical pieces such as string instruments and a very effective celesta. There are some clever moments in the film’s score that assists in its high anxiety but Britell nicely times the emotional cues in his sound.
Don’t Look Up is truly one of the funniest films of the year and one of the most depressing films of the year. On paper, it makes no sense that this should work but McKay’s unique directing style blends it all together to make a very unique film watching experience – only you can know if you’ll enjoy it.