Directed by Alexander Payne.
Starring Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Rolf Lassgård, Ingjerd Egeberg, Udo Kier, Søren Pilmark, and Jason Sudeikis.
A social satire in which a guy realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself.
Downsizing is the second failed social satire of 2017 prominently featuring Matt Damon in the lead role, but Alexander Payne’s (Nebraska, Sideways) misfire here is a much tougher pill to swallow, as the concept of modern-day existing technology capable of shrinking one’s self all the way down to miniature dimensions (similar to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids in the visual presentation) to hit the reset button on life and in some cases quickly get rich from currency translations (it should be noted that the invention of downsizing by Norwegian scientists was intended to rectify the growing concern of Earth’s overpopulation) offers up plentiful wonder and opportunity for whimsical shenanigans to an imaginative mind.
Apparently, Alexander Payne (also collaborating on a script with his frequent partner Jim Taylor) is unaware of what Downsizing should actually be. The opening 45 minutes or so are actually fine; Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) are leading unhappy lives, have no children, and slowly drowning in debt slaving away at jobs they don’t particularly care for (Paul is an occupational therapist but it’s clear he desires a profession far more helpful to society in that field but is barely just finishing paying off his schooling), so when Paul comes across an old friend (Jason Sudeikis) living it up in Leisure Land (a complex specifically designed for downsizers), he talks the procedure over with Audrey and they decide that it’s the best course of action going forward in their marriage. The decision is also easier to make upon the realization that their finances double.
Visually, the photography has a splendid way of capturing both life-sized and miniature figures in the same composition, with the direction from Payne utilizing a number of creative inventions to further demonstrate coexistence among both types of humans. In particular, methods of transportation intriguingly showcase this, as there are separate designated areas for downsizers, generally parallel to normal-sized citizens. As one would expect, the juxtapositions between large and small are always aesthetically pleasing to gander at, and for the first half of the film, it is something taken advantage of by Payne.
Immediately after the intricately detailed downsizing sequence (complete with body examinations, haircutting, and glossy white production designs inside medical facilities), there is a slight twist to the married couple’s plan that quickly sends Downsizing spiraling downward desperately in search of a salvageable plot. Without spoiling it, what happens is an event that sends Paul trekking down a rather tedious odyssey of self-fulfilled purpose. Admittedly, that’s not so bad, but by the time the final third of the film is rolling around, Downsizing once again drastically changes gears into something else, although this time something beyond frustratingly perplexing. At a certain point, the film completely stops taking advantage of its own concept, stumbling through the awkward social commentary Alexander Payne fails at delivering.
Weirdly, the film’s tone continues to grow downbeat in a way that transforms a lighthearted dramedy into something unbelievably stupid. As Paul’s midlife miniature crisis goes on, Downsizing essentially takes on an episodic format introducing a host of supporting characters (ranging from terrific actors such as Hong Chau and Christoph Waltz turning in some genuinely good performances despite the mishandled execution of the narrative). Occasionally, the incredibly obvious theme/hypothesis that, if given wealth, the impoverished would go on to succumb to the same indulgences as the filthy rich makes for a few nice character moments and comparison scenes, also further highlighting the good in Paul who whether he is normal or shrunken seemingly lives to help people. Naturally, that is nice, but it doesn’t necessarily expand on his character or make the movie any less boring; if anything it quite often comes across as a gratingly cheesy white savior feature in a depressing setting.
Accounting for all of this tonal dissonance, the original music from Rolfe Kent maintains the whimsically tuned beats that perfectly set the opening act, which is filled with ideas and imagination. Aside from the ensemble cast assembled for this mess, the soundtrack is unquestionably the greatest component of Downsizing. Bluntly put, Alexander Payne has no idea how to express the social commentary he is going for here, and even when there are tender moments that stimulate the mind (an early scene with Paul and his mother comes to mind), the purpose of it is quickly forgotten about. So much of Downsizing is aimless, unfortunately ending up a boring waste of time.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com