Let’s say I have a time machine. Someone says, “You must hop in the machine and take one movie back with you to the year 2002. You will use this movie to explain what life today is like.”
Without question the movie I would choose is, Don’t Look Up.
It’s a satire written and directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman, Big Short) and Netflix declared it’s the most-watched premiere ever. It may be getting the eyeballs, but critics hated this film. The Tomato score is around 55%, but most reviews lambast Don’t Look Up as if it’s the cinematic cousin of Ishtar or CATS.
Like a crazy-eyed Dr. Randall Mindy, I’m yelling at the sky and telling you they’re wrong and this is McKay’s best work. And it may even be the best satire in a decade. It’s not quite Network or Dr. Strangelove, but it’s not nearly as far away from those films as many reviews would have you think.
Here is why I think it’s so hated. Have you ever had one of those dreams where you’re at school? The teachers are boring, the tests are frustrating, and the other kids aren’t kind. The dream reminds you how much you hate school. When you wake up only to realize it’s Monday morning and you actually have to go to school and face it all again.
This is what it feels like to watch Don’t Look Up. When the credits roll you may think, “I’ve been living this film for the last few years. Why would I want to watch a movie about it?”
The answer, at least for this podcaster, is I felt one thing watching this movie: I’m not crazy. It’s the world around me that’s lost its mind. We shout at each other and then turn everything into a bad slogan or an even worse pop song. Every divisive subject is turned up to an 11 on the anger meter, and then we move to whatever is next.
Don’t Look Up captured this feeling. I know it’s a climate change movie and the biggest criticism “It’s too on the nose. It’s nothing like the great satires of yesteryear like Dr. Stranglove.” I rewatched Kubrick’s classic to see how he subtly handled the satire, and what I saw were soldiers firing rifles against each other with a large sign PEACE IS OUR PROFESSION in the background.
It’s an incredible visual gag. But the metaphor could not be any more obvious. As were many of the gags in Dr. Strangelove including the title character giving a Hitler salute in the middle of the war room. These are subtle not moments. They’re loud and insane and hilarious.
Don’t Look Up is hilarious in some moments and serious as a Sunday sermon in others. This comedy and tragedy yo-yo is what I feel every time I turn on the news. Or scroll social media. Or I’m laughing at a cute joke made during Thanksgiving dinner and then somebody across the table casually says, “Actually you know the moon landing is fake.”
One of the things I fear as much as climate change is our inability to talk and listen to each other. Dr. Mindy said it best, “Not everything needs to sound so clever, or charming, or likable all the time. Sometimes we need to just be able to say things to one another. We need to hear things.”
I’m not saying Don’t Look Up is Citizen Kane or The Godfather. I’m usually with the critics, but they reviewed this film in with the type of ire usually saved for Friday The 13th sequels and Rob Schneider direct to DVD comedies.
It doesn’t deserve that level of hate. It’s one of the most interesting films to release since the pandemic began. I asked my co-host, Andrew, how he felt watching it and he said, “Never has the end of the world felt so cathartic.”