‘Don’t Look Up’ On Netflix Is Satire, But Not Very Good Satire


Netflix is pushing its new satire/comedy Don’t Look Up very hard. Since I love satire, I took the time to watch it. Unfortunately, we live in times that are so weird that satire and reality often get mixed up. When the world seems more off-kilter than the satire, you know the authors have failed. And this movie is a perfect example of that.

Two astronomers (Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio) discover that a comet that can wipe out all life will hit Earth in six months. Even though NASA internally confirms it, the President (Meryl Streep) has no interest. The astronomers leak the news on a talk show whose hosts (Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry) make fun of them, and they get denounced by other scientists, even those who know the truth. That changes when the President is involved in a scandal and announces a project to use nukes to divert the comet (and public interest). The mission starts off successfully, but a billionaire donor (Mark Rylance) gets a chance to just break the comet up and get it to crash in the ocean so its rare earth elements can be used. Public opinion, through social media, splits up in bizarre ways. Things fall apart, humanity is doomed. But the elite figure out a way to survive.

Satire is supposed to exaggerate as a way of poking fun. A great American satirical musical Of Thee I Sing had a presidential candidate running on a platform of love and winning — and it had Gershwin music. That seemed extreme and fun at the time. But how hard is it to imagine a President who ignores crises? How difficult is it to imagine media slanting and covering up the news? Or billionaires buying politicians? Are there many of us left who believe the elites wouldn’t betray us if it was in their own interest? The irony of all of this is that some who saw the movie simply because of the stars, with no previous knowledge, were convinced it was about corruption in the Biden White House. But the writers told the media they were poking fun at Trump and his people.

When you can’t even guess what or who is being satirized, then the project is a flop. The main topic writer/director Adam McKay wanted to satirize is climate change, which he feels is not being talked about enough. I guess they’ve missed the dozens of TV shows, hundreds of news stories and occasional movies focused on the issue. Personally, I remember it every time I pay more for a gallon of gas and look at my FP&L bill.

The actors all seemed to be chewing up the scenery, and several well-known people seemed to have parts written for them just so they could participate. Streep usually gets deep into characterization; here she looks like the Mel Brooks version of Meryl Streep. Rylance was villainous, Blanchett and Perry essentially brainless and nasty.

As I noted earlier, we live now in a world where satire is almost impossible because reality seems like a satire. The Babylon Bee, one of the best satirical websites, has often had its craziest stories fact checked by those in that business, as if the stories were real. Their story that ISIS was laying down its arms due to a plea by Katy Perry to “let’s all live together” was taken seriously and listed as a lie, and their recent report that Nancy Pelosi thanked millions of babies for their sacrifice in the name of women’s rights was claimed as a vicious attack by several fact-checking outlets who should have known better.

Maybe we should limit the use of satire to those who know how to use it and dealt with by those who understand what satire actually is. But I must admit after all the anger being shown on all sides, the idea of a president who really believes in love is beginning to seem really nice.

But unless you want to see stars doing what is probably their worst work, you can certainly skip Don’t Look Up.