Meryl Streep is the Commander in Chief of the year’s best ensemble cast in Don’t Look Up. With nothing but respect for my President, though, Streep’s President Janie Orlean is just about the worst thing to hit the White House since 45. Adam McKay’s satire is spot-on and fearlessly too soon as Don’t Look Up lampoons not only the age of Trump, but the world of alternate realities that he created. It’s a joy to watch Streep and this all-star cast roast an administration that nearly blew up the planet. Don’t Look Up is one of the few, if only, reasons to thank the Trumps for existing. It’s a laugh-a-minute riot. But it’s also as fun as it is depressing for the mirror it holds up to reality.
Don’t Look Up might hit too close to home for some viewers. However, the events of the past four years show how a sizeable portion of the world’s population could look disaster in the face and say with dead seriousness that all is fine. That’s literally what happens in Don’t Look Up as PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a comet. Her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), calculates that it’s on a certain collision course with the Earth. The comet spans nearly 10km and is, by all scientific analysis, an “extinction event.” However, good verifiable science only counts for so much these days.
“Sit tight and assess”
Dibiasky and Dr. Mindy join Dr. Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) of some strange-sounding-but-real government doomsday org in alerting the White House. However, the white trash populist in the Oval Office is more concerned that her supremely unqualified Supreme Court nominee is caught in a sex scandal. President Orlean and her Chief of Staff/son, Jason (Jonah Hill), opt to sit back and assess the situation. Saving the planet is an act too valuable to mobilize until it helps Orlean in the polls.
As the asses assess, TDibiasky and Drs. Mindy and Oglethorpe do a media blitz. Unfortunately, a comet hurtling towards the planet doesn’t trend as well as the break-up of the hottest pop star (Ariana Grande, a lot of fun in a small cameo). However, when Kate has an on-air breakdown on live TV, while the co-anchor (Cate Blanchett) thirsts over Dr. Mindy, the comet becomes a viral hit. For all the wrong reasons.
Things spiral out of control as an Elon Musk/Steve Jobs character, Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), discovers valuable resources in the comet. Letting the comet hit—guided by Isherwell’s technology, of course—might actually be a good thing. The competing narratives about the comet as doomsday device or saviour of American prosperity fuel a propaganda war. Kate and Dr. Mindy fight a campaign based on sound since and verifiable information. President Orlean stages massive rallies urging the masses to divert their eyes. It’s the gaudiest “Look over there!” campaign since Jaida Essence Hall’s debate performance in Drag Race.
The anger with the state of the nation seethes throughout each razor-sharp line of Don’t Look Up. McKay, never one for subtlety, understands that we’ve gotten to the point where people need a sledgehammer to the face. It’s a satire about the alternate realities in which people live. And it is, admittedly, what audiences need. Anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers throw spittle in the face of good science. Elected officials spin alternate facts to make grave decisions. Major news outlets literally just make shit up.
The film satirizes the breaking point we passed years ago. Many people, the film laughs with an ominous guffaw, will deny the obvious even as it hurdles towards their face. The house is on fire, and has been for years. McKay’s film is the “This is fine” dog meme on an epic scale with gonzo performances and gut-busting laughs. He plays everything in his rapid-fire over-caffeinated style. The film plus into memes, viral videos, and social-media savvy lingo that talks the talk of contemporary politicos and spin-doctors. Don’t Look Up is boldly of the moment and for the moment. While McKay’s style is always an acquired taste, and Don’t Look Up doesn’t quite hit the bull’s-eye with the same self-referential audacity as The Big Short it’s funnier than Vice and more cohesive. This coherence comes largely to the synergy of the cast that ensures the jokes come fast and they hit hard.
The end of the world hasn’t been this fun since Melancholia. But it’s eerily realistic here. Each laugh, big as it is, inspires one’s stomach to drop. The film is equally humorous and horrifying knowing that people will laugh without realizing they’re the punchline.
Hail to the Streep!
It helps, too, that the cast sells the satire with deadpan conviction. Actors rarely have this much juicy material at their disposal and they make the most of it. Stars chew the scenery and the meat’s so fresh that it still bleeds as they chew.
Streep and Hill, unexpectedly, make the best tag team of the year. Riffing on Trump, Ivanka, and other recognizable passengers of the idiot train, they run wild with the kind of Looney Tunes line deliveries one heard in official statements for years. Streep in particular proves a scene-stealing delight. President Orlean is one of her better comedic creations. There’s something therapeutic to the way that she harnesses the Donald’s coarsely populist appeal. Using all the cheesy mannerisms and let-me-convince-myself-of-this-too line deliveries that ferry outright lies to the masses, Streep gives a ferociously funny middle finger to Trump.
Everyone in Don’t Look Up operates on similar brainwave. DiCaprio shows a wilder side and has much fun mixing neurotic ramblings with showmanship worthy of Network. From Morgan’s straight man to Grande’s bubbly diva, every role major and minor is perfectly cast. Blanchett is hilarious as a stone-cold FOX blonde, while Rylance elicits huge laughs without drifting from Isherwell’s robotic register. Lawrence has a lot of fun letting loose, and Timothée Chalamet adds good vibes when he appears late in the film. Don’t Look Up is so ridiculously stuffed with star power that it feels as if someone just ran into Chalamet at Whole Foods at roped him into making the movie.
But that’s the charm on the film. Every star shows that they have a stake in the story at play. There is something refreshingly cathartic about the manic satire here, even if one leaves Don’t Look Up acknowledging that we’re all totally fucked.
Don’t Look Up opens in select theatres including TIFF Lightbox on Dec. 10. It streams on Netflix beginning Dec. 24.