Starring Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Udo Kier, Kristin Wiig, Jason Sudeikis
The new film from auteur Alexander Payne (Nebraska, The Descendants) is unlike anything he’s done before. It’s a film that first and foremost sells itself as a comedy, to be fair, most Payne films do, yet turns out to be something different entirely. It’s science fiction, but presented in mostly realistic terms. There hasn’t been a serious movie about human shrinkage since Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Downsizing starts out as this whimsical, sarcastic comedy, on par with Payne’s writing style from Sideways or About Schmidt. The first hour shows careful and brilliant touches on how this future society must accept the common place practice of downsizing. However, midway, Downsizing turns into a climate change movie with a curious yet scene stealing performance from Chau, that’s arguably a bad racial stereotype.
Paul and Audrey Safranek have decided that the only way to achieve the life they’ve always wanted is to go small. Revolutionary technology out of Sweden has made it possible for humans to shrink from their full-size form to about five inches. The process is irreversible, and while the concept was created to help save the planet from over population, it’s the fact that one dollar equals a thousand in Leisureland. Micro communities allow the small people to have bigger lives than they could as adults. “It’s not like we are dying, just relocating,” Audrey says to comfort her family. Once Paul wakes up in Leisureland, the most advanced and popular of the communities for small people, things are not exactly what he expected and his new life takes a completely different turn than he was promised.
Downsizing is only interesting until it isn’t, which is about an hour in.
What I enjoyed most about Downsizing in the first hour is the thought process put into the script about all the unthinkable elements one must go through in order to become small. We watch in horror as Paul is shaved from the top of his head to the ankles. Damon without eyebrows is frightening. Even specialized spatulas are used to move the humans from a gurney once they are downsized into convenient carrying cases. The downsizing concept and the representation of how society might accept such a thing is both hilarious and ingenious. Downsizing is only interesting until it isn’t, which is about an hour in. The constant exposition shots are needed to remind us that Paul, and everyone around him, are miniature size. This includes featuring “life size roses” or Paul signing a full-sized document. Waltz gives a zany performance that’s most just stuck in there for laughs and not unlike the arrogant role from Carnage.
The hot topic of the film is supporting actress Hong Chau (Inherent Vice) who becomes one of the main plot themes. Her Vietnamese character who has been arrested for protesting and turned into a maid, speaks like an Ali Wong character when she is making fun of Asian females. At first you think it’s some kind of gag, especially with the fact that Damon got into such hot water over his previous film The Great Wall and whitewashing. Despite where you land on the delivery of Chau’s performance, she is still one of the films highlights. As is the production design that creates some fascinating miniatures and bigatures to help convince the audience of the downsizing. The movie runs entirely too long and even worse towards this preachy “save the planet” theme that feels so far from where we started.
A creative oddball comedy that loses its way mid movie and turns into something most audience will regret having paid for.