Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Don't Look Up


What a movie for Christmas Eve! Season of hope and renewal, coinciding (more or less) with the Winter Solstice, when the sun decides to return to us, and Adam McKay's "Don't Look Up" proposes the sun won't come back. Ever.

For an end-of-the-world movie, it actually delivers ... the end of the world. I sat there for the first two hours wondering if Adam McKay would actually do it. He did it. But the tone of the movie leading up to that "conclusion of the species" is so Adam-McKay-clever -- satiric thrusts and wicked jokes about how narcissism makes us dumb (this McKay World is ruled by a blond, trifling president, played pretty brilliantly by Meryl Streep, and by the Q Score of a varnished pair of TV anchors on a popular feature news show, "The Daily Rip" -- played by Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry, having way too much fun) -- that biting tone of poking the bear of self-absorption did not entirely prepare me for the last 30 minutes, when McKay admits that human potential deserves reverence even as it faces its own extinction.

I was actually moved by Timothee Chalamet's performance as Yule, a skateboard dogtown boy with a hat turned around backwards ("I'm FirePuma142 on Twitch. Do you game?"), who turns out is possessed of a sweet disposition and a talent for praying a sincere prayer over a last supper. The moment absolutely floored me. The only Black character in the whole film (Rob Morgan as head of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, a real thing) sits at the table and hears Yule's prayer. "You got some church game, man," he says. That scene could make you love the human race.

The ending of "Don't Look Up" moved me in unexpected ways. Leonardo DeCaprio nails the long arc of a serious academic astronomer of limited achievements who first discovers the trajectory of an Everest-sized meteor, who goes from the urgency of terror and a need to ride like Paul Revere to an unhorsed hanger-on seduced by his own celebrity (he officially achieves the status of an "A.I.L.F.," which you can translate for yourself; first word is "astronomer"). He redeems himself. His instinct at the end, when the end is inevitable because not one, not two, but three attempts to fly rockets to explode and divert the meteor have failed, he wants to go home to his estranged wife and his two teenaged boys, achingly good young men. At that last supper, he says to everyone, "We really did have everything, didn't we? I mean, when you think about it."

Chalamet in "Don't Look Up"

That's of course the message: gratitude for what we have could actually lead us to save what we have. More than just a ribbing about how stupid we are, "Don't Look Up" delivers a solution that still resides in our genes (alongside the gene for destruction), a capacity to love and to protect what we love.


I could bend your ears a lot longer about other characters, other actors portraying them ... like Jonah Hill as the president's son, the little prick she's appointed nepotistically as her chief of staff, who gets the lion's share of funny lines. He's an idiot and doesn't know it. He talks like this when he wants to feign sympathy: "There's dope stuff, like material stuff, like sick apartments and watches, and cars, um, and clothes and shit that could all go away and I don't wanna see that stuff go away. So I'm gonna say a prayer for that stuff. Amen."

Or Jennifer Lawrence as the new-age doctoral student who first discovers the comet. She's got the big picture and does not get seduced by notoriety, but she's as buried in the petty details as everyone else. She discovers that an Army general has charged her for snacks meant to be free in the White House, and she will not let it go. It's as big an issue with her as the comet named for her.

Ariana Grande, hilariously cast as a self-absorbed pop star whose breakup with her boyfriend currently dominates social media and broadcast media too. One critic labeled Grande as "a good sport" for taking a role that could be seen as an unintentional self-parody, the young woman whose fame has throttled her maturity. This scene, where the Grande character, glitsy singer Riley Bina, sits in a TV greenroom with the two astronomers played by Jennifer Lawrence (as Kate Bibiasky) and DeCaprio, waiting to go on-air:

Riley Bina: You guys discovered a comet? That's so dope. I have a tattoo of a shooting star on my back.

Kate Dibiasky: Oh.

Dr. Randall Mindy: That's terrific. We heard about your breakup too, so we just wanna say... We're very sorry, right? We're real sorry. You seem like a... great person.

Riley Bina: Why don't you mind your own business, you old fuck?



I know that professional critics are divided on this movie. Some of the reviews have been unnecessarily savage, implying a smugness about McKay that I don't see and don't accept. If you can't hold a mirror up to current society without being accused of conceited motives, we've gone so brittle as a culture that we deserve to shatter.


Pixelshim said...

A terrific review. We loved it too, and made similar observations to yours. Thanks

Ron R. said...

What Pixelshim said.

MahitibelMahitibel said...

Me Too!