Are moviegoers ready for Do not seek? It’s a star-studded satire that deals with hot topics of the day – from the climate crisis to media disarray and the layoffs of newscasters.
Blockbuster movies tend to owe their success to luck, not current events – at least that’s the theory of studio insiders, those of us who have already lit the movies. The mood of the public seemed ready for Titanic in 1998 or Section in 1986 or Dr Strangelove in 1964 or even West Side Story in 1962 (oops, but not that of 2021).
At a time when high-profile films are opening up to lackluster numbers, this holiday season in particular seems in need of some relevance. Adam McKay, who gave us The big court and Presenter, thinks. Therefore, he’s delivered a gonzo satire whose opening this week seems designed to not only sync with the tornadoes but also the brewing of news stars like Chris Wallace, Brian Williams, Chris Cuomo, and Rachel Maddow. (Now in theaters, Do not seek debuts on Netflix on December 24.)
Is the news anchor an anachronism? Anachronism is a disturbing word in Hollywood this week, given the flaccid opening of West Side Story. The disinterest of moviegoers in Steven Spielberg’s $ 100 million musical has made many (including me) wonder if the “period musical” was just yesterday’s news? If so, will be Do not seek turn out to be the one today?
McKay is a known bold optimist. “If a script asks an actor to give you a match, McKay will replace a blowtorch,” one star of a McKay movie told me. McKay loves satire – provided it’s apocalyptic. Therefore, his new film is driven by events at the extinction level, not mere tornadoes.
“Great satire amplifies obvious truths, and Do not seek contains those moments of gratitude, ”writes Ben Smith, media columnist for the New York Times, who admires the movie Strangelovian. This is despite the fact that his journal, renamed The herald, is skipped in the movie because it downplays the “big story”, which doesn’t generate traffic.
McKay’s strident messages, along with his box office successes, continue to garner strong celebrity support: Leonardo DiCaprio plays a nerdy, ulcer-prone astronomy professor. Jennifer Lawrence is his brilliant (albeit uncontrollable) assistant. Meryl Streep is portrayed as a clumsy and opportunistic President of the United States, and Cate Blanchett as a licentious news anchor who administers “media training,” among other giveaways, to DiCaprio. There was even a nude scene for Streep in the film, which DiCaprio helped veto.
As the film unfolds, neither the president nor the media are prepared to announce the imminent threat of a giant comet heading towards Earth – the obvious metaphor for climate change.
Although DiCaprio manages to earn a spot on a Today-like a show to deliver its doomsday scenario, Anchors, Blanchett, and a goofy Tyler Perry, continue to demand the “fun” elements of its discovery. Lawrence violates his media training by shouting “Maybe destroying Earth isn’t meant to be fun.” The grim NASA chief interrupts a political meeting to signal that a pop star, played by Ariana Grande, has reunited with her boyfriend (Grande can even sing).
If key media figures avoid devastation, McKay tells us, their ultimate setbacks are well deserved. The filmmaker had already parodied local information professionals in Presenter, then turned to the scammers The big court and warmongers in Vice, which focused on Dick Cheney.
Surely McKay must understand that satirists, like news anchors or con artists, are also an evanescent species. He clearly likes peril.