Less mass, fatter cash. Obviously, there’s more to the process scientists have developed known as Downsizing, an optional yet irreversible decision people can choose to make themselves roughly 1/200th of the size they currently are. Essentially, five inches. Since its introduction five years ago, waste has been reduced, and resources go a longer way than ever before. The average middle income or even lower income person can potentially—almost certainly—live an easier life by getting smaller. This is the real draw.
After seeing and hearing the happiness his old friend Dave Johnson (Jason Sudeikis) is getting out of downsizing, American everyman and everywoman Paul Safranek (Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig) decide they want to be next, relocating to “Leisure Land” to start anew. The transformation is successful…for Paul, though he’s all alone in this new world without his spouse who bailed at the last possible moment. May not seem like it to him, but this could be a silver lining as he figures out if he is truly meant for something bigger.
There’s a scene about 90 or so minutes into Downsizing where a group of 5-7 people listen to a scientist espousing the values of something or the troubles of one thing. The exact details are hazy. But the main takeaway is, the people and the actors involved in this scene look bored and disinterested. This scene is a microcosm of the viewing experience of Downsizing, a predominantly mundane viewing experience.
At least the first third does relatively good with the film’s intriguing premise. Director/writer Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Nebraska) uses this first act to show off some adept CGI and camera angles juxtaposing the tiny and the normal sized, introducing some amusing sight gags, and just generally building up the mystery and the event that is the downsizing process. The first act is arguably—no, definitively—the act in which Downsizing and its rife potential for satire and social commentary is seen most clearly; a great moment taking place in a bar where a drunk patron makes thought-provoking points about the downsized populace and whether they should be a part of society. This scene gives a viewer hope.
Sadly, Downsizing‘s momentum tapers off slightly but consistently after the titular event and then lost for good about fifteen minutes later. An overlong party scene does nothing to the narrative when contemplated, only the day after provides a core character. To not spoil anything (for those still carrying some desire to view), there does seem to be a good ending message of selflessness and the greater good, but even that is not all that clear.
It is hard to pin down exactly what Downsizing desires to be, or the story it aspires to tell, because it pulls itself into so many story directions/themes and genres without being compelling in any one of them. End of the world, environmentalism, cultism, racism/discrimination, and more are only touched upon. But, the biggest frustration as it pertains to Payne’s latest film might just be the fact that so much of the story has nothing to do with downsizing even one iota. Most of the last two-thirds is shot and told no differently than what is seen in most traditional dramas. You’ll forget that these characters are five inches tall. Maybe that’s the point, but again, it’s so hard to know for certain.
What is hard is seeing this cast slog through nothing of interest and seemingly appear to know it. Lead Matt Damon, recreating his look from Elysium in the downsizing process, isn’t exactly asked to carry the movie but still asked to be the focal point, but his Paul simply isn’t a guy to get invested in, and to spend over two hours with him is asking for a lot. There’s an argument to be made that perhaps Downsizing would work better if it followed Paul’s friend of Dave, played by Jason Sudeikis. He gets the best lines and seems to be the one character who speaks to the satire of the whole situation, but he’s punted quickly as is Kristen Wiig, losing much of the potential fun that could be had.
Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau stand out the most, but for reasons that aren’t great. Waltz plays an extremely forgettable foreign party guy with little else worth discussing. Chau, on the other hand, turns in a good acting job for a role that is written rather weak. Despite the problematic stereotype she is saddled with, she does get the viewer to care about her way more than this film should.
However, Downsizing is still a disappointment, any way it is sized up. Very big on an idea, very small in the execution of it.
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