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Don’t Look Up provides fast-paced drama and unexpected humor

Audrey inspects a film
Audrey inspects a film

Don’t Look Up, a Netflix film and an Oscar contender in four categories, tells a fast-paced story while shining plenty of satirical light on American society. The plot is straight-forward. Two astronomers, academics from Michigan State, discover that a large comet is on a direct course to hit the planet Earth.

The result will be total annihilation. It’s an apocalyptic event, millions of times worse than Hiroshima. According to their calculations, the end of the world will come in six months and fourteen days.

Does this storyline sound like another in scores of classic sci-fi films? Maybe yes. But Don’t Look Up doesn’t play out like other sci-fi films. In its own possibly unique way, the story unfolds as much as a satire of American Government and billionaire capitalism as it does a catastrophe possibly leading to the end of the Earth as we know it.

If the sci-fi plot doesn’t excite, then perhaps the all-star cast will awaken interest. The two astronomers are played by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio. Meryl Streep plays the crackpot President of the United States. Jonah Hill is her son, the snide Chief of Staff. Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Timothee Chalamet, and Tyler Perry also have good roles. Mark Rylance is a standout as an eccentric genius, a guy who makes billions in the smart phone business and claims to know all about science, and even to know how each person will meet their death. If I had to choose the most fascinating character in this cast of well-written characters played by stellar actors, it would be Rylance. His face is a study, and his voice is prodigiously calculated.

The basic plot involves Lawrence and DiCaprio attempting to notify the population of its imminent destruction by the comet. NASA and the White House are the natural first stops. They travel from Michigan to D.C. to meet the President without changing clothes. DiCaprio wears an ill-fitting flannel plaid shirt and worn corduroy. Lawrence is in the same casual sweater in which we first see her. Actually, I think it’s a mistake in the script to have the two arrive in such disarray. Academics are not ignorant rubes – even when they are rushing because they just discovered the apocalypse is nearing!

The scenes with Streep and Hill in the Oval Office are satire-filled. The attitude is mean-spirited and ever so funny. So begins the astronomers’ complex journey to convince the American citizenry, and also the international population, that the world is ending.

Remember Henny Penny and the sky is falling? That’s the feel of their situation.

Writer/director Adam McKay makes the most of each scene. Looking at his credits, there can be no doubt that McKay is up to the challenge. Among the films he has helmed are Vice and The Big Short. He directed an episode of Succession. The camerawork also is superb, with select shots done with handheld moving camera and nicely chosen close-ups.

The two astronomers are booked onto a talk show called “The Big RIP”. Here the satire blossoms with the help of Ariana Grande as an exaggerated version of a pop star. Cate Blanchett sparkles as she comes into the film at this point. She does not disappoint! Again, the satire builds, and the story becomes somewhat more complicated.

Don’t Look Up is one of the most cynical films of our time. The U.S. Government is made up of a combination of ruthless politicos and agencies headed by people lacking credentials but who have contributed heavily to political campaigns. The media are without morals; they are educated, sharp, but without integrity.

When it isn’t poking fun at U.S. political corruption, goofing on the stupefyingly dumb, trumped-up gossip of some talk shows, putting down the scholars from state schools who are not associated with Ivy League universities, and generally satirizing the silliness of our current society, Don’t Look Up is telling an exciting story with topnotch acting, a concise and powerful script, and fine directing.

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