(Been awhile, hasn’t it? I’ve been planning a recap of my last 8-9 months — let’s just say I’ve had a host of health issues — but I need to really think about what I’m gonna share on the big ol’ Internet instead of just my Facebook feed with my ~700 friends and “friends.” So here’s a movie review about the FILM THAT EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT. This was on Facebook, too, so if you’re one of those FB contacts, you can skip it.)
A lot has been made — not least by director/writer Adam McKay — that “Don’t Look Up” is really about climate change. But I think even McKay knows that its REAL subject is vanity. And you know what Ecclesiastes says about vanity.
“Don’t Look Up,” the title, comes from a movement late in the movie in which MAGA-like followers heed the slogan of the foolish president (Meryl Streep) to “don’t look up” at the comet that will destroy the earth once it’s become obvious by appearing in the sky. (This is counter to the instructions of the astronomers who discovered it, who say “Look up” at the same celestial sight.) But what do people spend most of the movie doing to start with? Looking down — at their phones and electronic devices. As we all do.
Compare that to the ancients, or any generation before 2000 — we looked up at the sky, at buildings, at each other. We tried to genuinely connect the way humans did since crawling out of the slime.
So maybe McKay is trying to make a point about climate change, but he could have been making the point about any national or global issue that becomes just another piece of clickbait. After all, the “Morning Joe”-type show that first has the astronomers on as guests (nice use of logotypes, Adam — he borrows fonts from “Hannity,” CNN and BevMo, among others) has them on right after a celebrity discussing her recent breakup. Nothing new about this — I’m sure the sheep-herders of 17th-century England discussed the Glorious Revolution and Nell Gwyn’s tits in successive breaths — but it makes me despair nonetheless, just like the guy who wrote Ecclesiastes. (Shmuel Cohen, probably.)
Anyway, let me talk about the movie, though it’s hard to do without talking about the criticism of the movie — that it’s not funny, that it makes its points with a sledgehammer, that McKay needs to find a cinematographer who didn’t go to the Reality Show School of Shakycam Faux Documentaries. Some of that is true — I think I laughed out loud only a handful of times myself — but that’s partly because it hits home so painfully. I mean, I worked for a major news website for 16 years. Towards the end, my mornings were often spent checking various trend sites. How can I laugh at that? It’s awful.
But I do think the film would have benefited from some broader caricatures. If “Dr. Strangelove” and “Network” are the gold standards for apocalyptic black comedies — and “Network” is pretty damned apocalyptic, don’t kid yourself — then I wanted more Slim Pickens and Robert Duvall, less Peter Sellers as Mandrake and Faye Dunaway. I could have also done without the subplot with Mark Rylance’s tech mogul — a subplot that became plot, but could have been its own movie — and Leonardo DiCaprio’s affair with Cate Blanchett’s news anchor.
But I’ll give “Don’t Look Up” credit for having more heart than either of those films in the climactic scenes with DiCaprio and his family. Perhaps it would have been a better film without those images of people spending their last moments with loved ones, but the damn thing was so well acted that I forgave it. (My own battles with mortality certainly informed that — I may have thought differently at 25.)
Anyway, a modest thumbs-up from me, maybe 3 1/2 stars out of 5. As Mr. Ecclesiastes wrote, “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.” Regardless of what humans do to it, for better for worse.