In this satiric dark comedy from director Adam McKay (Vice, The Big Short), Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as astronomers trying to warn the planet of an extinction-level comet headed straight for Earth. Meryl Streep plays a Trump-like narcissistic president who at first doesn’t want news of the comet to tank her presidency, but then ends up using the crisis to try and win re-election. When DiCaprio and Lawrence give up on the government to prevent the tragedy, they turn to the media — but depressing news is bad for ratings, and a significant percentage of the public simply refuse to believe the astronomer’s assertions. Humanity’s last hope ends up being an eccentric, over-confident billionaire (Mark Rylance) with a plan to break the comet up into smaller pieces. But without peer review or any kind of regulations in place, can he be trusted?
Don’t Look Up would have been a dramatic thriller called Deep Impact or an action spectacle called Armageddon if it came out thirty years ago. But McKay’s perspective is funneled not-so-subtly through recent events like the Trump presidency, the rise of science denialism, and the sinister controlling influence of social media. It’s a little like Network, but that film’s predictions took ten or fifteen years to come true. Don’t Look Up predicts what might very well happen today. Much of the movie requires little-to-no suspension of disbelief — certainly not in its depiction of a self-serving presidency or the growing abandonment of facts and science. Perhaps it has more in common with Dr. Strangelove, a comedy about potential nuclear holocaust that could also have been marketed with Don’t Look Up‘s tag line: ‘A true story that hasn’t happened yet.’
McKay rides a fine line between comedy and tragedy with a film that is often very funny, but ultimately tragic and hard to shake. Chances are, you’ve seen few films like Don’t Look Up. It’s best to go in without any genre expectations. And even if the film’s tone doesn’t suit you, there’s a tremendous ensemble cast doing terrific work here. Streep and Lawrence are always solid, but DiCaprio is a bit of a surprise in an anxious, nerdy role. The other stand-out is Mark Rylance as the soft-spoken billionaire who loses his uncanny calm only after DiCaprio asks if humanity should trust a businessman over the institutions of science and government. The roster also includes Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Rob Morgan, Timothee Chalamet, and Ron Perlman.