Is "Don't Look Up" A Good Movie?
We chatted about one of Netflix’s biggest films ever. (Spoilers ahead.)
Tomi Obaro: On Christmas Eve, Netflix dropped Don’t Look Up, a star-studded satire about two scientists played by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio who discover a comet hurtling toward a very indifferent Earth. Written and directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short), the film was one of Netflix’s most-watched movies ever. But reception has been mixed. Let’s discuss!
First things first, who actually liked this movie?
Jason Wells: Me.
Scaachi Koul: I liked it, but I also had the benefit of zero expectation.
Stephanie McNeal: I also liked it!
Elamin Abdelmahmoud: I can’t relate to the “mixed” reception, because I had a good time. But because of how we talk on the internet, sometimes simply saying you liked something comes across as suggesting that this is, like, the top Oscar contender for the year. Don’t Look Up is… fine. It’s fine. I had a good time.
OK, I guess I am alone in finding the film extremely unsubtle and an absolute slog to get through. For the folks who like the movie, why?
JW: I did not come into this expecting whatever I think others were — give yourself over to the camp and enjoy the spectacle. Netflix clearly spent a shit ton on this thing and it showed, bad bangs and all.
SK: I’m a big advocate for movies that press on the pleasure centers of our brains, even if those movies aren’t actually any “good.” Didn’t Don’t Look Up do its job? A weird Ariana Grande song, Jennifer Lawrence in a haircut that is a direct affront to God, forcing Leonardo DiCaprio to pretend he’s married to a woman his own age, Jonah Hill with a Birkin. Come on. Don’t be greedy. You can’t ask for more.
SM: I thought it made the point it wanted to make and did so well. I also was fully entertained for the entire thing, which was super long. I just felt like it was a satire that worked for me, even though it made me kind of depressed because I think it hit too close to home.
EA: Some folks don’t like to be lectured in their movies and television. Others are fans of Aaron Sorkin. I am the latter. I love a pedantic movie. This is Adam McKay’s third pedantic movie — The Big Short is basically a sentient angry Reddit post, and Vice is a sarcastic Wikipedia page, and god I love it. I love it! Sometimes, I want to watch things that not only confirm my worldview, but also actively kick other worldviews right in the gonads. But to give you perspective on the kind of person I am: I watched the entirety of Sorkin’s The Newsroom. Twice. I am sorry to say that I am the primary audience for Don’t Look Up.
Some critics have expressed negative opinions about the film. In Manohla Dargis’s New York Times review, she notes that “McKay’s touch here is considerably blunter and less productive than it has been in a while” and even suggests that Meryl Streep’s character is kind of sexist. Alison Willmore (former BuzzFeeder!) writes in her Vulture review, “McKay’s movies are not particularly pointed in their satire and, as time has gone on, have increasingly settled into their preferred form of a harangue. He seems to believe that people need laughs and famous faces to be lured into thinking about more pressing matters, and he hates them for it.” Do you agree?
JW: If you think it’s too on the nose, look in the mirror.
SK: Isn’t that the point? I appreciated the raw nihilism of it; it’s not like the ending gives anyone much hope for the future, nor should it.
EA: This movie would never work if the allegory was more subtle. What do you want, slowly rising sea levels and melting glaciers? To turn up the satirical absurdity, it needed to be directly on the nose. I mean, “Me and your father are for the jobs the comet will provide” — come on, that hits! You have a planet that’s warming at an alarming rate, and politicians asking how to create jobs fighting climate change?? The time for subtlety was, oh, maybe 20 years ago.
SM: This seems overly nitpicking to me TBH.
One incontestable fact is that the film is jam-packed with stars. Which cameo was your favorite?
JW: It felt like everyone was a cameo in this, and I know Cate is getting a lot of ish, but when the comet is hitting and she said, “Honestly, I think I’d just rather drink and talk shit about people,” I saw myself.
SK: Probably the little blip we got of Chris Evans, one of the top three Chrises for sure. I don’t think I even realized it was him until much, much later. I’m curious how you pay someone for a cameo that lasts, what, 20 seconds?
EA: Gotta hand it to Kid Cudi! More Cudi in movies, please.
SM: I think one of the reasons the movie worked is every person was very talented. I loved Jonah Hill and Meryl the most, probably.
Which actor had the most impressive performance?
JW: Every character was unlikeable, so kudos to them. But Meryl Streep took the cake. Thumbs up to her stylist.
EA: Jonah Hill as the president’s son and chief of staff — extremely punchable behavior. I am never motivated to violence, so shouts to Jonah Hill for making me really hate his character.
JW: Rob Morgan vs. Jennifer’s bangs.
EA: I do not notice wigs, and even I shrieked at the Rob Morgan situation.
SK: Pretty bummed about Meryl’s hair-in-a-can wig. Couldn’t someone have run a comb through it at least?
SM: The Bezos/Musk tech guy character’s because he was so creepy.
What was the most surprising thing about the film?
JW: The total destruction of Earth??!! It was beautiful to behold.
EA: I think beautiful is exactly the word here. That whole last sequence was so emotional and moving. Did I cry? Give me a raise and I’ll tell you.
SK: Meryl’s lower back tat. Also, that she decided to do this movie in the first place. Good for her.
JW: OMG yes. The lower back tat wins.
SM: I personally didn’t see the “tech genius harvests the comet for money” thing coming, and it made me want to die.
JW: Same. Although I didn’t see a lot of things coming in the movie, so by the time that happened I was just like, “OK.”
Do we want more movies like this in 2022? Is the movie lecture having a moment?
JW: It is, and I’m here for it.
SK: I don’t know that it was really a lecture; to me, it felt more like a cry for help. A lecture suggests it would be more pointed, but instead it was just a reminder that everything is bad, all the time, on every planet, for the rest of time. But I’m not against more movies that just lean into despair — what are we doing, performing optimism? And for what????
SM: Yes, because it was actually CREATIVE. It wasn’t a biopic or a remake or something. At least we can all say it wasn’t something that we had seen before.
EA: For some of us, the movie lecture never went away. ●