Don't Look Up

Don't Look Up ★★★½

I think this is a little overhated. There’s surprisingly a lot of good here. The comedy is pretty great and definitely makes this a lot more watchable. There’s no bad performances here, and Leo, Hill, Timmy and JLaw were especially highlights. I actually really liked the color grading and the most of the cinematography. The editing here was typical Adam McKay, but it wasn’t as obnoxious as Vice. There’s just a few unnecessary cutting between scenes along with some weird jump cuts that seemed like they were trying to keep some funny improv moments, but they didn’t plan for it on set. They should’ve just filmed additional inserts/reactions, but hey. For the most part, this film is really enjoyable, but I didn’t feel completely gratified in the end, and I know why.

SPOILERS
The issue with Don’t Look Up comes from its conflict, including the external conflict, the emotional and philosophical.

There’s a clear external conflict here, two scientists want to save the world but the government interferes with their self interests of power and wealth. The issue here is that our protagonists and antagonists don’t go head to head enough. When they do, the film is interesting, high stakes and grounded. However, the film focuses way more on spectacle, making it way more about audiences and big stages. To fix this, I would’ve just made this take place right before re-election, and have a presidential opposition to Streep step up during the mid point and hire Leo and Jlaw to support his effort. Of course this character could be shallow in their own way too (They do have this character in the film, but he’s in one scene…). In fact it could be funnier if this character was a complete idiot, but the only way to fight against Streep and Rylance’s efforts. That way we have more direct conflict. Also, certain scenes should’ve been written and directed in a way more grounded way. Everything was so hard to connect with, and the tension waned significantly. 

On the emotional side, I don’t think this was clear at all. Jlaw’s character likes to take xanax I guess. There’s nothing clear about her emotional arc. She kinda finds love with Timothee Chalamet in the end? Leo has anxiety, which is dropped after like the first twenty minutes. Then he cheats on his wife, we kinda lose focus on this for most of the film, and he gets back with her in the end. Nothing clearly defined here. The fix? Hit on the point of Jlaw dealing with disrespect her whole life. This is an external conflict for her, with people not taking her seriously throughout film, but if we tapped into her relationship with her parents more, it definitely would’ve been more gratifying if the public in the end took her seriously at the close of the film. Use Timmy to help her realize this. For Leo, really hit home on the fact that he’s a simple guy thrown into extraordinary circumstances, who saw himself as ordinary but realizes his importance the world also. They do show him as the ordinary guy at first and then completely abandon it. We see him lose touch with his family, but it seems like it doesn’t bother him for like half the film. First, we need to spend time with him and his family at the beginning. A phone call isn’t enough, it doesn’t show that connection. It means nothing when he loses them later in the film, so you have to develop that early. Then, stay consistent with his fish out of water feeling, make it a constant struggle. Bring in the affair subplot later, when he’s managed to develop his public image (going to get to this in the philosophical conflict), and while he’s caught up in it all, then have him split from his wife, while building up to that with tense moments with his family before. Then, they reunite in that end scene, and instead of cutting between that and the space launch, just spend a lot more time holding on the conversation, with the house slowly shaking, as they try to avoid the real talk. This scene is actually pretty great originally, but cutting between everything else made it less emotionally gratifying. Once the house is incinerated, then you can cut to the chaos on earth.

Since I just rambled a lot, the main point I want to make with the emotional conflict is that Jlaw and Leo should have two sides of the emotional issue here. Jlaw respects herself but doesn’t glean the same respect from others, starting to doubt herself as shit goes wrong, but in the end is reaffirmed of her worth, hopefully getting respect from her parents. Leo doesn’t respect himself, gains his confidence as the film goes on, takes it too far and at the end, realizes that he respects himself as the man who did everything he could to save his family and earth.

Finally, the philosophical conflict. There’s clear social commentary here, and while I appreciate the message, it’s not subtle and way too surface level. That’s all the film has going for it too. I looked around, and it seems like nobody has a real idea of what the philosophical question of this movie is (I’m not talking about the social commentary here). My best idea for the film would be “Is ignorance bliss?”. Leo believes everyone should know, with more optimistic viewpoint and Jlaw believing the same with a more pessimistic way. Streep believes that people should know, with her own selfish spin on it, riding on the wave of the people’s positivity, the same with the hypothetical politician with his own spin. Rylance and Morgan should both think that the people shouldn’t know, Morgan being for the force of good and Rylance with the corrupted view of his self interest. The film does touch on these, but it isn’t clear at all. As the film goes on, they should be tested on this more and more. Jlaw and Leo learn how to use the media to their advantage, but realize the cold truth that media manipulation is key to influencing the masses. Streep and the hypothetical politician realize their dishonesty to the public as the comet becomes more and more a threat. Morgan sees the efforts of Jlaw and Leo and maybe has a moment that opens his eyes, along with Rylance, motivated by self interest, seeing that people value the truth, and attempts to profit off of it. In the end, Leo, Jlaw and Morgan are the only characters at the dinner table who know that Rylance’s mission has failed, but when Morgan hints to Leo to notify his family, Leo stops him, hoping to make his last moment with this family special. Streep should have a moment with Hill, where he starts freaking out because he bought into her control of information, and realizes that she should’ve been straight up all along. Rylance should be more clear in seeing the error of his actions. 

I think the core issue of this film boils down to its hard focus on social commentary, rather than a fundamental and human philosophical question. You can still integrate its important commentary, but in a way that satisfying to the audience rather than “Oh shit, if this actually happened, we’re fucked”. Hope you enjoyed this long, rambly essay :) Hire me Netflix

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