Why Are Liberal ‘Don’t Look Up’ Superfans Attacking Film Critics?

Why Are Liberal ‘Don’t Look Up’ Superfans Attacking Film Critics? 1

On Wednesday, director, screenwriter, and producer Adam McKay inserted himself into an ongoing debate on Twitter between critics and more passionate admirers of his latest Netflix film Don’t Look Up, a cautionary tale about our current climate crisis. Presumably in response to film critics who found the movie less than satisfying, he tweeted, “Loving all the heated debate about our movie. But if you don’t have at least a small ember of anxiety about the climate collapsing (or the US teetering) I’m not sure Don’t Look Up makes any sense. It’s like a robot viewing a love story. ‘WHy ArE thEir FacEs so cLoSe ToGether?’”

If McKay was ever hoping to see off accusations that he’s one of the more condescending people making movies right now, this declaration certainly doesn’t help. In fact, the main charge against Don’t Look Up’s effectiveness as a satire, as delineated in reviews and across certain parts of Twitter, is the exasperating nature in which it assumes its audience is blissfully ignorant and unconcerned about our globe getting rapidly hotter and, therefore, needs to be enlightened by a heavy-handed allegory. Thus, it makes sense that McKay, along with author and former Bernie Sanders speechwriter David Sirota, who co-wrote the story, and a slew of liberal pundits, are categorizing anyone—but mainly journalists—who criticized the movie as indifferent to the threat of climate change or, more extremely, as climate change deniers.

For those who haven’t seen Don’t Look Up, the movie follows two scientists, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, on a quest to inform the public about a fast-approaching comet that would wipe out the Earth. Their warnings are coldly dismissed as they urge self-interested politicians to implement defense measures and loony journalists to report on the impending disaster before it’s too late, only to become viral memes on social media—sort of like how our most vital institutions have failed to adequately address global warming in the interest of capitalism and how today’s kids are more concerned with getting likes on Instagram than the fate of humanity. Get it?

While McKay rightfully takes aim at people in power, his two-hour-long analogy ignores a global movement of pro-science, environmental activists, and laypeople who would most certainly mobilize around this scenario, including journalists who would aggressively report on it. Instead, the media is broadly portrayed as incompetent and uninterested in the safety of the public. DiCaprio’s character gets attention solely for his looks while Lawrence’s character is mocked on social media for having a meltdown on television. And the greater public only becomes concerned about their livelihoods once the comet becomes visible.

By McKay’s analysis, there are very few human beings on Earth—McKay is obviously one of them—who are smart enough to act in their own interests or have the compassion to care about the futures of others. Meanwhile, vulnerable communities who are experiencing the drastic effects of climate change currently—not just when it gets to the stage where it violently impacts everyone, which is what McKay seems to be primarily concerned about in this film—are spreading awareness, proposing solutions, and holding government officials to task.

Despite these complaints, I wasn’t completely turned off by the film, maybe because I’ve grown used to McKay’s didactic overtones over the past five years or was warned on Twitter weeks ahead of time. I found it easier to digest as a mildly funny popcorn movie as opposed to the challenging, cerebral text it wants to be. The film’s primary saving grace is an odd but mostly successful ensemble of heavy-hitters churning out excellent comedic performances, including—aside from DiCaprio and Lawrence—Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett as deeply unserious cable news hosts, Timothee Chalamet as a punk skateboarder, Rob Morgan as head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (which McKay wants us to know is real), Mark Rylance as a tech billionaire, and Meryl Streep as a pointed hybrid of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

I found it easier to digest as a mildly funny popcorn movie as opposed to the challenging, cerebral text it wants to be.

Although I had a mostly good time watching Don’t Look Up, according to McKay, Sirota and its flock of obtuse defenders, I simply don’t “get” the urgency of our climate crisis because I didn’t think the film is necessarily smart (despite the fact that I just endured a 50-degree Christmas in the Northeast). I can’t think of a better example of the way Hollywood conceives activism than a filmmaker gauging the public’s environmental awareness by their reaction to a Netflix movie that cost $75 million to make and most likely produced tons of waste in the process. More significantly, this is another common incident of artists refusing to accept what critics do on account of their egos. It shouldn’t have to be restated every time a lackluster movie is released that a critic’s job is to evaluate a film’s quality and how well it conveys the ideas it presents, not applaud filmmakers on the basis that the ideas they present are correct.

This distinction between criticism and marketing can become fuzzy to outsiders when art and journalism are increasingly produced under the same roof. Likewise, an overwhelmingly positive “review” of Don’t Look Up on Netflix’s editorial arm Tudum quickly began to circulate after McKay’s outburst. The website, which only covers in-house content, described the film as a “perfect satire,” proving that if some inadequately paid writers on the internet don’t have McKay’s back, the multibillion-dollar streaming platform that financed his movie and now an Oscars campaign surely does.

Maybe McKay should cover the disintegration of journalism under late-stage capitalism next.