Frame rating: ‘Don’t Look Up’ is a disaster of astronomical proportions

Two people look at a phone screen together.
Jennifer Lawrence and Leonard DiCaprio star in “Don’t Look Up” as two astronomers who discover a comet primed to destroy the Earth. (Courtesy: Niko Tavernise/Netflix)

There was a lot happening in December 2021. Betty White died, the world was about to enter its third year with a global pandemic and a little movie called “Don’t Look Up” gripped the collective consciousness of the American people. Except for me, who only got around to watching it a cool three months late.

Proclaiming itself to be a scathing satire on the state of the world and starring literally every famous person alive, Adam McKay’s Oscar-nominated apocalyptic comedy had a lot going for it. It was bold. It was relevant. It was indisputably ambitious.

It was also really bad.

It was so bad that, for my second column in a row, I feel compelled to use the Oscars as an excuse to talk about a movie that came out ages ago. I may not be timely, but I certainly am predictable.

The premise of the movie is, admittedly, a fun one. Two astronomers (Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio) discover that a massive comet will destroy the Earth in six months if it isn’t stopped in time, but despite the indisputable evidence of inevitable annihilation, America doesn’t really seem to care. The government is ineffective, the corporations are greedy and the populace is apathetic, making the fate of the planet scarily uncertain.

If you think this synopsis sounds eerily similar to some real life events, you’d be correct. The comet is, of course, an amped-up analogue to climate change. Adam McKay isn’t exactly subtle.

The attempts in “Don’t Look Up” to highlight the lunacy of climate denial, anti-intellectualism and the politicization of science are noble, even if they are ham-handed — but good intentions do not equal a good movie. The film is a clunky, smug, frustrating mess. “Don’t Look Up” stumbles awkwardly and obnoxiously through the entirety of its two and a half hour runtime.

The pacing is atrocious. Plot points repeat themselves redundantly, seemingly major but ultimately unimportant characters are introduced far too late into the film (I’m looking at you, skater boy Timothée Chalamet) and scenes drag on far, far longer than they need to. The whole thing feels like a rough draft in desperate need of cleaning up. Ariana Grande performs an entire, uninterrupted three and a half minute song in this movie. It’s exactly as out of place as it sounds. 

The editing is similarly painful. The already unwieldy scenes of “Don’t Look Up” are made even unwieldier through the film’s use of nauseatingly frenetic cuts, gimmicky camera tricks and copious amounts of B-roll. I am honestly scared to think about what the stock footage budget for this movie must have been.

All of this would be at least a tiny bit forgivable if the movie was funny. Unfortunately, “Don’t Look Up” really only succeeds at being irritating.

In one especially eye-roll-inducing scene, DiCaprio announces the imminent catastrophe on live television, only to be instantly overshadowed by the latest celebrity breakup. It’s so lacking in self-awareness it hurts. How out of touch do you have to be to pay Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence $55 million to be in a film that blames climate change on cartoonishly vacuous millennials caring too much about celebrities? 

“Don’t Look Up” seems to desperately want to be seen as clever and enlightening, but more than anything, it ends up feeling remarkably shallow and self-indulgent. You know your comedy movie is bad when most of the Letterboxd reviews are funnier than the film itself.

The movie wants to make you frustrated with the state of the world, but it only really made me frustrated with McKay’s filmmaking. His message is so intensely overshadowed by the film’s sheer unlikeability that I can’t imagine it doing anything for the world other than perhaps providing climate deniers with fodder.

The most frustrating facet of this movie is the fact that it could have been good. The premise was neat. The cast was stellar. It’s a colossal shame that what could have been a witty and insightful look at climate denial was reduced to the 145 minute long film equivalent of an angry tweet.

The discussion around this movie has been, understandably, contentious. The harsh reviews this film has garnered have been met by even harsher counter-reviews

McKay himself said on Twitter that “if you don’t have at least a small ember of anxiety about the climate collapsing (or the US teetering) I’m not sure Don’t Look Up makes any sense,” snarkily insinuating that those with genuine critiques for his film simply don’t understand or care about the weight of climate change.

As self-important and obviously untrue as that statement is, I suppose this should be said, for Mr. McKay’s sake: It is perfectly acceptable for one to align themselves with a movie’s moral position while acknowledging that that movie is, sadly, a catastrophic failure.

“Don’t Look Up” is a poorly executed film with a genuinely good message, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it. Widespread climate denial is a very real problem, and finding fault in this deeply flawed movie does not mean you disagree with that. 

Adam, if you’re somehow reading this random college newspaper column, let me assure you, I’m just as bummed as you are that your movie isn’t any good.

Gerrit Punt PO ’24 takes solace knowing that, in the event a comet does find itself hurtling towards Earth, it will, at the very least, destroy all traces of this awful movie.

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