Brief Review: Don’t Look Up

I liked it a lot, which is not surprising as it combines two of my favorite things — astronomy and satire — into one movie, and then also gives me an excellent cast and a pretty good script. I would have liked it more, I suspect, if we weren’t currently living through a pandemic in which a great many Americans believe an actual virus that could kill them is a fake government plot which nevertheless can be counteracted by consuming enormous piles of horse paste, an idea that they were given (or at the very least encouraged in) by their chosen political idols. So the idea that a planet-killing comet could be met with indifference at best and gleeful avarice at the worst is a little on the nose for 2021.

But if you’re going to whistle past the graveyard, at least this film can carry a tune (literally, as Ariana Grande shows up to sing a song about the end of the world). It’s fun to see Leonardo DiCaprio play against type as a socially awkward nebbish of a scientist; Jennifer Lawrence is more in her own wheelhouse as a sarcastic millennial, and is unsurprisingly good at it. Plus there’s Meryl Streep, Streeping it up Streepily as the sort of President of the United States I fear we’re cursed to have more of in these latter days.

It’s all done well, and all more depressingly likely than I prefer. Satire is harder to do than it used to be. That’s not this movie’s fault. It’s ours.

— JS

41 Comments on “Brief Review: Don’t Look Up”

  1. I’ve actually been hesitant to watch this, just because it sounds so plausible. (The public and official reaction, not the planet-killing comet, although that’s certainly plausible as well. Yep.)

  2. Absolutely agree! In this the current VP saying g she would not get vaccinated if the previous regime suggested it. Such a murky political world we live in where science comes last even after death

  3. Karthik – do you have a source for her saying that? I can’t find any indication she did on google.

  4. I agree, I liked the film. I think a problem it’s had was being promoted as a comedy. It wasn’t a comedy, but a dark satire, much like “A Modest Proposal.” All too believable and perhaps the satire is lost in the reality it’s depicting. My two favorite parts were the main characters getting together at the end to cook a family meal together, showing what’s really important in life. And the President at the end and how it ties back to the tech guy’s algorithm ;)

  5. I’ve yet to watch this but know what you mean about satire, I loved the thick of it (British satire about politics and spin doctors) couldn’t watch it now because it feels like we’re all extras in an extremely long episode of it 🤦🏻‍♀️

  6. I had not even heard of this before. Your description of it makes sound like they locked the writers in a room with Tom Waits blaring at them until they burped the script out.

    Not a bad way to go in my book, so have some Whistling Past the Graveyard by one of my favorites.

  7. Yeah this is definitely one for the “sounds great – I really don’t wanna see it right now” list.

  8. I think if “Don’t Look Up” had come out two years ago it would have been praised as a smart, incisive, over-the-top satire on the response to climate change.

    Now it’s more like, well, yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what would happen and this is really funny but it’s also making me sad.

  9. It was a great movie to watch: good acting, engaging dialogue, and at times, quite smart (listen closely to A. Grande’s song). Ultimately (as other have noted), it’s about climate change and how so many refuse to see the obvious – hence the title. It is also sad, because it really isn’t a farce (though I’m sure it was meant to be one), but rather an all too accurate reflection of willful our stupidity.

  10. “Satire is harder to do than it used to be. That’s not this movie’s fault. It’s ours.”

    This line will be the start of history books in the future.

  11. I agree that the problem is that it was pushed as more comedic, like Idiocracy, than dark satire. Another review I saw pre-watch was that it was more like Dr. Strangelove which has some comedic parts but again is satire.

    Put me in the right mood to enjoy it. Otherwise I think that the let down of it NOT being like Idiocracy would have made me feel the way the negative reviews are coming up.

  12. “Now it’s more like, well, yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what would happen and this is really funny but it’s also making me sad.”

    Exactly! I loved it, but wow did it hurt.

  13. Yeah, I’ve been thinking that releasing this NOW is during a time of year/life is where people are already depressed and watching this will only make them more depressed. Who’s the audience for it? Who’s going to want to see it? It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that the world is so effed that you can’t really satirize how dumb and death-cult-y we’ve become. We know darned well we’re all going to die for stupid reasons because those in power aren’t going to band together and do what has to be done.

  14. I agree with you about ‘Don’t Look Up.’ Don’t forget Mark Rylance as the weird, discomforting tech demigod. Rylance is an amazing actor and I always enjoy his performances.

  15. Amen (pun intended). The whole story was making me painfully squirm as so much idiocy rang true. Too on point to even be dystopian.

  16. Two aspects I found really interesting

    1) I think this is the first mass media portrayal of a “Trump” style president. When a fictional president shows up in media you can typically peg them to a type. The 90s and 2000s were filled with Clinton-esk presidents. There’s no lack of Bush-ish portrayals. For 50 years evil presidents have often been portrayed on a recognizable Nixonian template.

    But I think this was the first big “Trump” type. Of course it was a satire. But it was interesting seeing a rational narrative trying to integrate Trumpian reactions. I suspect we’ll see more of this over the years, possibly displacing the Nixonian template. It will be interesting to see how the cultural shape of the Trump archetype changes as we get further from the man himself and starts being built on layered media portrays.

    2) I’m finding it darkly humorous the number of mainstream reviewers who are giving it a pass, and specifically saying that the ideas are good but that the movie would have been better or more effective if they had been presented in a funnier or more lighthearted way. They’re working so hard to find subtext that having it thrown in their face as just text it offensive to them.

  17. As a guy who recently bought a decommissioned Church, I would have thought you’d mention, in your otherwise excellent review of “Don’t Look Up,” the sincere and heartfelt prayer around the final dinner table, offered up by the young slacker (raised by Evangelical parents) who fell in love with and followed Jennifer Lawrence’s character to Earth’s ending. His was a prayer any of us card-carrying Christians would be proud to voice, as we approach the time at which we expect to meet our Maker.

  18. Meryl Streep must have begged and threatened to take the producers’ children hostage to get this part. She plays to perfection a character closely modeled on the doofus president who called her the most overrated actress in the world.

    As a guy who has written satire, DLU caused me some concern. How can you do satire when reality not only catches up with it, but rolls over it and shoulders it into a ditch?

    The critics who are panning it remind me of that apocryphal English country squire who, after reading Gulliver’s Travels, commented to a friend that he thought Swift had just made the whole thing up.

  19. I’m holding out hope that President Swift will save America from ourselves.

    I’ve seen bits and pieces, it’ll go on the list now.

  20. Bored to tears … though I’ll watch anything with Mark Rylance, and he got me through the movie.

    Not long ago I got to watch Dr. Strangelove in a movie theater again. Maybe that’s the problem …

    Laughed at least once … when the President realizes she’s forgotten [spoiler]. And a number of my favorite actors were having a good time. My word for this would be “forgettable.”

  21. I enjoyed the movie, but is it satire when it’s so close to what’s been happening over the last five years? Change a few names and substitute “global warming” or “COVID” for “asteroid” and you’re done.

    Mark Rylance’s performance as the spacy giga-billionaire was disturbing, funny, and about the only thing in the film that I didn’t see coming.

  22. I read an interview with the director, who also did The Big Short. He said he kept having to rewrite the script because every time he thought he’d gone completely over the top, Trump would outdo him with bleach injections or some such nonsense.


    For Eytan Zweig – just FYI and not for a debate.

    But John’s point on people still doubting it’s existence and the potential protection of the vaccine saving lives is open to debate. Governments across the world seem clueless to the end of or resolution to this virus. That is shocking. Live with it can’t be a solution if so then it is in the Cancer or HIV category

  24. Karthik– Your link says Kamala Harris would not take “Trump’s word alone” that the vaccine was safe and effective. I agree with her, and don’t see that as controversial. Trump has a very poor record of telling the truth by now, it would be foolish to take his unsupported word for much of anything.

  25. I laughed my arse off from beginning to end. Desperately needed emotional catharsis, and it’s a lovely frame to mock antivaxxers with.

    With all the demands that we treat science denialists with kid gloves, it’s lovely to see someone wielding a scalpel instead.

    Even if they occasionally swing it with two hands.

  26. Karthik (December 28, 2021, 6:31 pm):

    “Governments across the world seem clueless to the end of or resolution to this virus. That is shocking. Live with it can’t be a solution if so then it is in the Cancer or HIV category”

    Or it is in the ‘flu’ category.

    Ultimately ‘live with it’ is the long-term solution. It is a virus, and mutates quickly and easily. That means that it is extremely unlikely that it will ever be completely eradicated. Thus, the only thing we can do is live with it.

    The important questions are: “how do we ‘live with it’?”and “how do we get there?”

    One way to get there is just to let it run its course. That has happened with flu variants in the past. It means tens (or perhaps hundreds) of millions of people will die, but in the end, the population will build up immunity and life will go on. That is what happened with the “Spanish” flu.

    Another way is to mitigate the effects until alternate means of immunity (vaccinations) or treatment become available, minimizing the death toll until then. This is the “hammer and dance” that was discussed early on in the pandemic.

    But in the longer term, the virus (with its variants) will continue to exist, but if the vast majority of the population is immune (in one way or another), then the effects will be minimal, just as with variants of the flu that circulate every year. Most people will not be significantly effected (perhaps a few days of mild symptoms), while those at high risk may receive new vaccines each year – just as currently is the case with the flu.

    The “end” is that it stops being a serious problem. It does not mean that the virus will somehow disappear.

  27. Don’t look up is a terrible movie .Unrealistic, a satire on reality. The writers were stupid,stupid,and more stupid .If this really happened,would be taken seriously, and best minds of America Russia,and China would try to solve.Azmerican President was a joke.Trump could get it done.This movie is ridiculously bad, boring, and just super terrible!.

  28. Yeah, it had its moments and some good acting, but overall, I’d have to give it a Thumbs Down. Meryl was cartoonish in a way that a man like Trump could (somewhat) get away with, but which I believe would never get a woman elected President. Mark Rylance’s creepy cross between Steve Jobs and Mr. Rogers was unnerving. I did like Leo and Jennifer Lawrence but found too much of it just too stupid to take even slightly seriously. I mean, would the two scientists’ first television appearance be on GMA or another moronic morning show rather than on CNN? I doubt it. But yes, I agree the whole reaction of the public was probably pretty on the nose, sadly.

  29. David Fisher, we get it. You didn’t like the movie.

    Your first comment indicates that you’re a Trump supporter, so of course you’re not a fan of a movie that pokes fun at his kind of “leadership”. But there’s about 60% of the country that hopes to never see or hear from him again.

    My opinion, I thought the acting was great (Streep and Blanchett, in particular) and the story was entertaining, though depressing. A bit too close to reality.

  30. I thought Jonah Hill’s version of one of the Trump kids was brilliant, particularly his speech to the followers about how they needed the lowlifes to support the ‘cool rich’ against the elites who are looking down at them.

    I think the portrayal of the scientists getting more and more frustrated as they are mocked, ignored and sidelined had to be a hard watch for any actual climate scientists. It was hard enough for me, and I haven’t been on the front lines of trying to raise awareness of the climate crisis.

  31. If you think Trump could “get it done” you must have slept through the four years of his presidency. He couldn’t keep a single promise. A health care plan to replace “Obamacare?” Just one example of not getting it done.

  32. David Fischer:

    Posting multiple comments saying the same thing over and over isn’t really needed, so I trimmed out some of the multiples. You’re welcome.

    More generally:

    Let’s not make this a comment thread generally kvetching about politics, please. Stay on target with regard to the movie itself.

  33. @rocketpjs — I work in climate policy rather than science, but yeah. There’s hardly a beat in this movie I haven’t seen in the news (and a good chunk I’ve experienced personally).

    I’ve watched it twice now and laughed and cried my way through both times.

  34. I just finished the first part of The Collapsing Empire and it’s hard not to sense similarities with Don’t Look Up. Lock In also felt strikingly familiar when I read it over the summer of 2020.
    Maybe we’d all be better off if world leaders read more of your books.

  35. [Deleted because Mr. Fischer does not appear to realize that this is my house, and so, my rules. If you don’t like that, Mr. Fischer, the door is right over there – JS]

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