Directed by Alexander Payne.
Starring Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Jason Sudeikis, and Udo Kier.
A cash strapped couple discover a way to escape their financial problems – move to a brand new community. All they have to do is undergo an irreversible operation that will shrink them down to just five inches high, after which they can enjoy a more affluent life in a whole new world. But once the husband comes round from his operation, he discovers that things haven’t gone entirely to plan.
On paper, it all looks so promising. The latest from director Alexander Payne, and regular writing collaborator, Jim Taylor, a duo with a sparkling track record when it comes to films about men undergoing a personal crisis: The Descendants and Nebraska to name just two. The idea – shrinking people so they occupy less space on an overcrowded planet – is higher concept than anything they’ve ever done and they have a cast headed by Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz.
But somewhere along the line, every director makes a dud. And, for the usually brilliant Payne, Downsizing is it. A film based on an innovative idea but so cack-handed in its execution that the result is as diminished as its main character. Part of the problem is that it just simply doesn’t feel like a Payne/Taylor movie. The usual heart is there, along with some of the humour, but their customary soundly structured narrative goes right out of the window in the second half and the characters don’t give any of the cast to shine in the way you would expect. After the first hour, the original idea falls apart. It’s as if the subject matter and the setting for the film count for naught. The people on the screen are supposed to be just five inches tall. Not that you’d ever guess.
The downward descent starts half way into the film, with the central character Paul Safranek (Damon) discovering there’s another side to life in the new community for small people. A downside. In other words, this brave new, smaller world isn’t that much different to the one he’s left behind. It has an underclass, it has poverty and it has depravation. He meets immigrant and political activist Tran (Yung Chau), who is more of a caricature than a fully rounded person, making their burgeoning relationship thin and unconvincing. At the same time, he also encounters his neighbour Dusan (Christoph Waltz) whose contribution or relevance to the film is shrouded in obscurity. He’s neither comic relief, plot driver nor satirical mouthpiece: all he does is to speed up that downward spiral.
Payne and Taylor have stepped outside their comfort zone for this one and deserve credit for that, but it simply hasn’t worked. Their efforts haven’t paid off, which makes it a film tinged with sadness, and the end result falls far short of the film’s ambitions. The ideas are there, but they all fizzle out as the film drifts off at a tangent, leaving the audience both bored and frustrated.
It’s not good news for Damon either. His customary knack for choosing good projects has deserted him of late, to be replaced by something shakier. The Great Wall was decidedly average and last year’s Suburbicon, directed by George Clooney no less, was a deeply disappointing effort. Downsizing is in much the same league, if for different reasons. The man needs a hit – and quick!
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Freda Cooper. Follow me on Twitter.