Don't Look Up review: Meryl Streep's female Trump will ruin your Christmas

Don't Look Up review: Meryl Streep's female Trump will ruin your Christmas

December 8, 2021

Netflix has decided to buck the trend for its usual festive warmth and well wishes this holiday season by releasing what is likely the most depressing new viewing option out there on Christmas Eve – Don’t Look Up.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still engaging and even humorous at times, and boasts the star-studded cast of the year (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett and Timothée Chalamet, just for starters).

However, seeing a very close alternative reality writ large and so realistically on the big screen is quite the mind trip after what we’ve endured the past 21 months, and it’s almost a little too close to home to properly enjoy.

Of course, this is entirely the point of writer and director Adam McKay, whose past films (The Big Short, Vice) show he loves to pitch the darkest of parodies in usually fast-moving and complicated scripts.

This time though, the glitzy cast can’t quite stitch together the sprawling satire as the film drags in places through its almost two-and-a-half-hour runtime.

It’s certainly still a movie to admire and appreciate though, as a sort of anti-Armageddon or Deep Impact. Astronomy grad student Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence) and professor Dr. Randall Mindy (DiCaprio) discover a comet on a direct collision course with Earth, little knowing that that catastrophe, which is usually the driving force of the standard apocalyptic film fare, is just the start of their woes as they struggle to tell people what they really don’t want to hear, with the help of Rob Morgan’s NASA scientist.

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Lawrence is a treat as her usual deadpan wisecracking self, which isn’t much of a stretch for her, but she has an all-too-true trajectory as the crazy crying girl in the film when she tries to stress the danger of Earth’s situation on national television.

DiCaprio is also excellent as the owlish Mindy, middle-aged and perpetually low-level panicked as he grapples with the enormity of the task at hand, as well as being ordained the ‘sexy astronomer’ by the rabid but deaf American media.

However, the performance of the film of course belongs to Streep as the indifferent and popularity-minded President Orlean, who shares an upsettingly close bond with her sycophantic advisor and son Jason (Jonah Hill).

It is unsettling how good she is as this all-too-familiar presidential character, far more concerned with playing power games than the planet’s impending doom. Orlean presents as a slightly broader and more chaotic version of Streep’s celebrated Miranda Priestly, but just as dangerous (and this time, y’know, in control of nuclear weapons).

Cate Blanchett is virtually unrecognisable as overly primped presenter Brie, who only likes to focus on upbeat stories for morning show The Daily Rip with her co-anchor Jack (Tyler Perry) – even if the world is going to end. Her character’s mannerisms and agenda seem all too plausible, and exactly the type of thing that encourages the questionable behaviour of a Gen Z pop icon (Ariana Grande in a pretty savage cameo).

Don’t Look Up is also the film that put a tan and blinding veneers on Sir Mark Rylance as mild-mannered tech tycoon Peter Isherwell and cast Chalamet as a lovable stoner, so snaps for that. But the thrust of the plot involving billionaire Isherwell (it doesn’t take a genius to work out how he might fit into the story) takes a fair old while to actually get going. 

As always, the movie’s main issue is it’s just too long for its own good. Lopping up half an hour could tighten this up into a pacier thriller with comedic elements – but again, it’s not quite as funny as it thinks it is. Laugh-out-loud moments are few and far between; it’s rather more grimaces and snorts of recognition.

The film’s ending does pack a punch, allowing for moments of real emotional sincerity in its cast and a finish that goes against the Hollywood grain. Also, if you want true stupidity shortly afterwards, don’t miss the mid-credits scene, which provides a fun pay-off.

Don’t Look Up is still a film to watch if you’re a fan of McKay or satire or any of the cast, as it provides a thoughtful if depressing proposition and strong performances.

It’s very well observed and nuanced too – but so much so that it’s realism, which could have perhaps done with a few breaks of broad comedy, steers you away from enjoyment.

After the resistance to facts seen in recent times, this foreshadowing of an all-too-possible reaction to an apocalyptic situation is perhaps just a bit too much… especially at Christmas.

Don’t Look Up releases in select UK cinemas on December 10 before streaming on Netflix from December 24.

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