ANDin another life, Don’t Look Up It really could have taken the world by storm. Film critics and moviegoers have been mourning the death of studio comedy for years. Here’s a movie that served as both: a star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, and Meryl Streep that tackled what might be today’s most pressing issue: the global climate crisis. Don’t Look Up it shot to the top of the Netflix ranks after its release on Christmas Eve and has been hailed by many in the scientific field for its on-the-spot messaging.
However, not everyone was convinced of his greatness. On the critical side, the film digested like a skirt steak on a vegan barbecue, and currently has a paltry 55 percent rating on review site Rotten Tomatoes. The reason is not a great mystery: it is simply not very good. Guardian he described her as “industrious” and “self-aware”. rolling stone he called it “the howl of a man waking up in the abyss” and “a disaster movie in more ways than one.” Many others were not kinder.
However, what is interesting is what came next: the reaction to the reaction. fans of Don’t Look Up and some of its creators this week took to social media to defend its ambiguous merits. This was a case of good versus evil: virtuous environmentalists against the smug critical elite. But moral conviction shouldn’t insulate any film from fair and honest criticism, least of all when said film is a long, bellicose comedy like this one. If you were attacking An Inconvenient Truth, it would be reasonable to ask if you have other intentions. if you hated Don’t Look Up, most likely you just have a sense of humor.
There is nothing in the premisee Don’t Look Up that is particularly unpleasant. For those who didn’t devour it over the holiday season, the film centers on a pair of astronomers (DiCaprio and Lawrence) who struggle in vain to convince the world of an impending catastrophe: a giant comet hurtling toward Earth. There are a number of infuriating factors standing in the way of saving the planet: a bribable, scandal-ridden, and unmistakably Trump-like president (Streep), an unbiased tech billionaire (Mark Rylance), and the entire banal media infrastructure of the United States. USA, personified by television hosts Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett) and Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry). It’s all perfectly well-intentioned, but the execution is too long and condescending. Streep sucks, as does Rylance, whose understated disastrous performance seemed to beg her friends in the theater world to stage an intervention. And for a comedy, perhaps its biggest offense is that there are almost no laughs. No wonder critics were up in arms.
The vast majority of people who saw Don’t Look Up You probably don’t know this tedious speech. Yet for media-obsessed people, the last week has been a frantic tennis match of op-eds and glutted tweets and the reaction economy hums like the market floor at the end of Trading Places. Forbes, for example, published an article titled “Why Sneering Critics Dislike Don’t Look Up, But Climate Scientists Love It”. The film’s screenwriter, David Sirota, weighed in on the debate by retweeting an article titled “Critics of Don’t Look Up Are Missing the Entire Point” and stated, “You’re not ‘smart’ if you laugh at people who try to fix things…This culture of sarcasm is part of what’s killing the world.”
The film’s director, Adam McKay, did the same. McKay was famous for his great laughter fests of the 2000s as Anchorman Y Step Brothers before moving on to overtly political pseudo-comedies like The Big Short Y Vice. As executive producer of Succession, is partly responsible for the sharpest television satire, and the best series, period, in years. But after the critical punishment of Don’t Look Up, defended himself, writing: “If you don’t have at least a small ember of anxiety about climate collapse (or America’s wobble), I’m not sure you will. Don’t Look Up going to make sense. It’s like a robot watching a love story.”
The thing is, film critics aren’t supposed to assess the moral worth of a movie. They are simply supposed to judge it as a work of art or entertainment. There are completely sensible and dignified films that could be very poorly done, as well as excellent films that can sometimes contain problematic elements. It is not a situation of choosing one or the other. Shark it was a film that eloquently conveyed the insanity of government stubbornness in the face of a public safety crisis. And it also turned out to be tremendously fun to watch. However, it is insensitive to conflate distaste for a film’s creative merits with opposition to its unarguably acceptable message. (A generous reading would suggest that’s not what McKay and Sirota are saying, though many of the film’s fans have been much more vocal on this point, openly accusing naysayers of climate crisis denial.)
The comic aspirations of Don’t Look Up are clear: the jokes are continuous and not funny, as if they were a bunch of rodents on the face of a cliff. But its defenders seem to want the film to be judged not as a satire but as a manifesto. It reminds me of Stewart Lee’s sarcastic response to an audience applauding a political joke of his: “I’m not interested in laughter. What interests me is a temporary liberal mass consensus.” Even if we had that reviewing the film specifically through the lens of its rhetorical effectiveness falls short. Yes, many of his satirical targets deserve to be attacked, but Don’t Look Up it offers little hope, little energy to goad viewers into joining the activism. It is as grim and desperate a portrait of the environmental crisis as First Reformed by Paul Schrader, though he doesn’t seem to know he is.
It is hard to repress the feeling that we are completely powerless in the face of climate catastrophe in the UK. Climate protesters are often denigrated in the media; much of the global political establishment seems unwilling to commit to the kind of radical change needed to save our planet. In this sense, the central metaphor of Don’t Look Up it’s chillingly relatable. But that doesn’t make it a good movie. We don’t have to pretend otherwise just to appear fair; indeed, film critics have a professional obligation not to. Yes it is as simple as that.