Seething Satire – Review: Don’t Look Up (2021)

Don’t Look Up is the 2021 satirical science-fiction drama written and directed by Adam McKay.

Dont Look Up (2021)
Dont Look Up (2021)

The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky, a Michigan State University astronomy student who discovers a previously unknown comet just inside of Jupiter’s orbit through a telescope. Her professor, Dr Randall Mindy, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, calculates that it will impact Earth in about six months and is large enough to cause a planet-wide extinction event, which NASA internally confirms. 

DiBiasky discovers the awful news in  Dont Look Up (2021)
DiBiasky discovers the awful news in Dont Look Up (2021)

In a hurried state of panic, the pair accompany NASA’s Planetary Defense head Teddy Oglethorpe to present their findings to the White House but are met with apathy from President Janie Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, and her son, Chief of Staff Jason, played by Jonah Hill.

Jonah Hill said that the notion of his character was, “What if Fyre Festival was a person?”

The pair decide to fight back by leaking the news live on a morning talk show, but this only gains widespread mockery, as people online deny the doomsday prophecy.

The scientists leak the news live on TV
The scientists leak the news live on TV

After a sex scandal rocks the white house, the Trump-Esque (or populist-style?) President Orlean decides to use the impending threat as a diversion, stating that the asteroid is real and announcing a mission to take it out before impact, ala every planetary disaster film you have ever seen.

However, moments before take-off, the mission is aborted, thanks to the influence of tech billionaire Peter Irsherwell, played fantastically by Mark Rylance. He announces to a group meeting in the Whitehouse that the asteroid contains rare minerals worth billions of dollars. His company has devised a plan to send automated robots up to explore and mine the minerals, launching a new wave of prosperity for the US economy. 

Isherwell shows of his crazy plan
Isherwell shows of his crazy plan

This narrative is vehemently opposed by Mindy and Dibiasky, who try to fight back, only to be silenced by the administration. Mindy decides to try and fight from within, whilst Dibiasky chooses to withdraw into obscurity.

The battle lines are drawn across social media between those warning of impending doom and those who deny the asteroid’s existence. Where have we seen this before?

It culminates in the slogans “Just Look Up” and “Don’t Look Up”, each rallying cry adopted by either of two fiercely loyal camps, with the President’s supporters holding Don’t Look Up rallies, fighting against the “establishment”. When other fight back campaigns, including nuclear launches from other nations like China, India and Russia, all fail, the doomsday scenario seems imminent.

It all goes wrong in Don't Look Up
It all goes wrong in Don’t Look Up

All hope rests on the mission from Isherwell’s company BASH, and his crazy plan of sending robots up to the asteroid. But, ultimately, this plan goes wrong, too, leaving everyone with the realisation that humanity is doomed.

Don’t Look Up is a hilarious razor-sharp satire on the current state of the political sphere, especially in the United States. The film has obviously divided opinions amongst viewers specifically for this reason. This film clearly criticises many of a certain political persuasion, and these people obviously do not want to be made fun of. Their reaction to the film has been negative, skewing online opinion.

A clear attack at denial and populist politics, the film throws many grenades at different targets, skewering its marks with forceful and obvious attacks. There is valid criticism here, though, as perhaps the film tries to go after too many demographics, it loses its point a little bit in being so forceful. The subtlety is lost.

Satirical take on right wing news
Satirical take on right wing news

But in true Adam McKay style, this is a refreshing and modern film and a worthy entry into his catalogue. It is not as dark as something like Vice (2018) and not as cutting as The Big Short (2015), which is, in my opinion, his best film to date. However, Don’t Look Up certainly adds to his eclectic filmography.

Christian Bale in Vice (2018)
Christian Bale in Vice (2018)

Maybe McKay’s robust style is not for everyone, but for me, the quick-paced, montage edits that dictate the style are exactly my cup of tea. There are a few aspects missing here, like his usual fourth-wall-breaking speeches, but most of his familiar techniques are present.

A talented ensemble cast in Don't Look Up
A talented ensemble cast in Don’t Look Up

He has tackled another fascinating subject with a fantastic ensemble cast, with particular mentions having to be made for the superb performances of Mark Rylance as the creepy billionaire and the hilarious moments from Jonah Hill as the Don Jnr style idiot son. 

Mark Rylance as creepy billionaire Peter Isherwell
Mark Rylance as creepy billionaire Peter Isherwell

Among the objects floating in space during the closing credits, a red car is seen. This may be a parody of the red Tesla Roadster vehicle launched into space by billionaire Elon Musk in 2018, considering the film’s satire relating to billionaire tech giants on space missions.

Jonah Hill as Jason Orlean, Chief of Staff and the president's son
Jonah Hill as Jason Orlean, Chief of Staff and the president’s son

The most disappointing performance for me came from Timothee Chalamet, one of my favourite young actors. Not for his performance, but the writing of this particular character felt shoe-horned and unnecessary. 

 Timothee Chalamet
Timothee Chalamet

Overall, I think the film is strong, and I am always excited to see what topic McKay tackles next.

Well, that’s our review of Don’t Look Up.

Did you enjoy Don’t Look Up? What did you think of our review? Let us know in the comments!

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David Roberts
Dave is a digital content creator, web and software developer and keen filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @drobertsdigital.