“You guys, the truth is way more depressing. They are not even smart enough to be as evil as you’re giving them credit for.”Kate Dibiaski
Written pre-pandemic as a satire of human inaction in the face of climate change, Don’t Look Up‘s commentary on scientists and experts being ignored in favour of entertainment and maintaining the status quo feels even more relevant in the COVID era, but relevance does not automatically equate to success. Don’t Look Up is Adam McKay’s bleakest work to date and features fewer creative flourishes, unfolding in a rather straightforward and heavy-handed fashion. Its satirical tone is wry rather than biting, which seems oddly insufficient for its end-of-the-world subject matter; by the end it has shifted more toward farce than insightful social commentary. The failure to skewer its targets more decisively may be necessary to reach the broad audience it desires, its “both sides” approach peaking with the wilful ignorance of a crowd chanting “don’t look up” paralleled with another crowd showering adoration on a pop star singing a vapidly meaningless “just look up” power ballad. The stellar cast produces dramatically and comedically compelling performances, and name-recognition alone should allow the film to meet Netflix’s success metrics, but they are not written with any emotional depth or sympathy. Don’t Look Up is arguably most effective when it broadens its scope to target media obsessed by “engagement” and tech industry billionaires’ self-aggrandisement and control over a political system hopelessly corrupted by wealth and self-interest. Its meandering focus is exacerbated by poor editing that allows the film to run over two and a half hours, when its ideas might have been more effectively communicated in a tighter 90-minute cut. As for reflection on how individuals respond to an apocalyptic crisis, McKay’s perspective is painfully shallow by comparison to existing efforts like Von Trier’s Melancholia or Scafario’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
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