Don’t Look Up’s star-studded, satirical allegory qualifies as Leonardo DiCaprio’s first film in a decade to not receive widespread critical acclaim.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s role in Don’t Look Up as astronomer Dr. Randall Mindy marks the first time in a decade that the actor has starred in a film with less-than-stellar reviews. A possible exception to this is Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 movie The Great Gatsby, which currently has a 48% Rotten Tomatoes score, though this contracts with an overall favorable audience rating. Regardless, in the past ten years DiCaprio has been in reliably widely acclaimed films back-to-back. His movie roster includes both Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood (2019) and Django Unchained (2012), his Academy Award-winning role in The Revenant (2015), and The Wolf on Wall Street (2013).
Don’t Look Up held promise to be a good movie. The cast includes Meryl Streep perfectly cast as Don’t Look Up‘s President Orlean, Jennifer Lawrence as a PhD candidate and Dr. Mindy’s de facto sidekick, and other big names like Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Timothée Chalamet, Tyler Perry, and Ariana Grande. Writer-director Adam McKay also has an impressive filmography that includes The Big Short, Vice, and HBO’s drama Succession. Don’t Look Up follows DiCaprio and Lawrence after they discover a miles-wide, “planet killer” comet hurdling towards Earth with a 100% chance of impact. Their mission: convince uninterested politicians, billionaires, and the general public to potentially curb this threat and save the planet. As an allegory for the threat of climate change, Don’t Look Up serves a deafening message about power corruption, capitalism, celebrity worship, and political divisiveness.
Despite the bold premise and star-studded cast, Don’t Look Up’s mixed reviews have made the film ironically polarizing. Granted, Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in the film is unsurprisingly well done, but many of the poor reviews consider him to be written as a cheapened archetype – one perhaps better designated for the likes of Will Ferrell than Oscar-winning DiCaprio. However, Don’t Look Up‘s divisiveness makes many of the reviews feel particularly subjective to one’s opinion on the subject matter – especially considering that there was virtually universal praise for the movie’s performances and technical aspects. If anything, Don’t Look Up’s agreed-upon weakness is its overly aggressive, heavy-handed attempt at satire, something that DiCaprio’s recent films don’t share.
Don’t Look Up is DiCaprio’s first movie based in the present-day since 2010’s Inception, which affects critical response differently than his recent films. His Once Upon a Time in Hollywood role as aging actor Rick Dalton was more of an homage to 1969 Hollywood than a biting criticism of any kind. Django Unchained, The Revenant, and The Wolf of Wall Street also lack the close-to-home aspect that Don’t Look Up provides because they’re based in the past. Don’t Look Up has understandable criticisms, such as its unsubtle, on-the-nose messaging having the potential to go deeper than it does, or its under-utilization of its A-list stars. For example, Chalamet is tacked on in the last act as a grungy, homeless youth that justifies Lawrence’s doomsday fears when DiCaprio exits her storyline and can no longer serve that purpose. Nonetheless, Don’t Look Up’s characters being based on celebrities and scenes in which panic attacks on morning talk shows become memes add an aggressive level of relevancy that viewers either do or don’t enjoy.
Despite Don’t Look Up having negative reviews, it’s a testament to his talent that DiCaprio can still have such an impressive, untarnished acting resume spanning years. In one decade, DiCaprio fit in more Academy Award-winning films than most actors do in their entire career. Don’t Look Up’s overly assertive messaging perhaps explains the movie’s mixed reviews, but this doesn’t detract from DiCaprio’s long line of overall upstanding work.
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