Downsizing (2017)

  • Time: 135 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama | Sci-Fi
  • Director: Alexander Payne
  • Cast: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Laura Dern, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau


“Downsizing” follows a kindly occupational therapist who undergoes a new procedure to be shrunken to four inches tall so that he and his wife can help save the planet and afford a nice lifestyle at the same time.

2 reviews

  • What if, in the not-so-distant future, Norwegian scientists had discovered a way to address the oncoming ecological and economic effects of overpopulation? What if instead of focusing on the dwindling supplies, they figured out how to decrease the consumers by literally reducing them in size? That’s the premise of director Alexander Payne’s Capra-esque satirical flight of fancy, Downsizing.

    Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) is an ordinary Joe, the kind of guy who takes care of everyone to the point of obliterating his own personal dreams. An occupational therapist who still lives in his childhood home and has just paid off his student debts, he’s married to Audrey (Kristen Wiig), whose aspirations for moving into a bigger and better home far outweigh their finances. At a school reunion, always a fertile ground for re-evaluating paths not taken and picking at the scabs of insecurity, they run into old friends Dave and Carol (Jason Sudeikis and Maribeth Monroe), who have undergone the miniaturisation process and rave about life in Leisureland, one of the many planned communities for those who have gone small. Paul and Audrey are further intrigued during a tour of Leisureland when Lilliputian sales reps Jeff and Laura (Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern) show off the economic advantages of being small – not only do the small get to afford their dream houses, they can buy a whole set of diamond jewellery for a mere $83, which is equivalent to their food budget for two months. Plus, going small helps save the planet! What’s not to love?

    Now completely persuaded, especially after learning that their total worth of $152,000 translates into $12.5M in Leisureland, Paul and Audrey make the decision to undergo the irreversible miniaturisation process, which Payne obviously delights in depicting. Strongly referencing the visual aesthetics of THX 1138, the sequence follows Paul and the others as they’re prepped for the procedure – hair is completely removed as are teeth; otherwise people’s heads would explode. The process takes less than a minute before the nurses come and lift the patients from their beds with steel spatulas and wheel them into the recovery room. Once Paul awakens, he realises that things didn’t work out exactly quite as expected.

    Once in Leisureland, the narrative expands to include Paul’s upstairs neighbour, Dusan Mirkovic, a cigar-chomping party boy played with rascally relish by Christoph Waltz, as well as Dusan’s cleaning lady Ngoc Lan, a Vietnamese dissident who was shrunk down against her will. Ngoc Lan is brought to vivid life by Hong Chau, who provides Downsizing with its most resonant comic and emotional beats. Spending time with the hilariously no-nonsense Ngoc Lan exposes Paul to the same social, racial and economic disparities that existed in the world he left behind.

    Downsizing is a superb, big-hearted and humane offering from Payne that often veers into the most unexpected corners. Technically flawless and emotionally rich, it offers keen insight not only into ingrained societal behaviours but also into the human condition. It’s the nature of men to want to survive, to long for and work towards a better life, and to squander the gifts that they have been given, but the underlying message in Payne and Jim Taylor’s pitch-perfect screenplay is reminiscent to the one in Frank Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life: stop diminishing yourself by thinking of what could be, but rather see and appreciate what already is.

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  • (RATING: ☆☆½ out of 5 stars)

    GRADE: C


    IN BRIEF: A sharp satire that quickly go off track at the midpoint and never recovers.

    SYNOPSIS: A man becomes small and see all the big problems in the world.

    RUNNING TIME: 2 hrs., 15 mins.

    JIM’S REVIEW: Alexander Payne’s satirical sci-fi comedy, Downsizing, is a major disappointment from such a talented director. It is a film big on issues and small on ideas.

    After a promising start that spoofs America’s obsession with fads, corporate corruption, and personal greed, the film takes a surprising u-turn and veers into preachy ecological territory, losing its comic edge and becoming a overwrought parable about self discovery.

    Matt Damon plays Paul, an Everyman looking for the best in all possible worlds and the actor is well-suited for this role. This modern day Candide thinks he has found a utopian world in Leisureland, a Disneyland paradise that miniaturizes people and transports them to a world of wealth and pleasure. At least, that is the message worth believing to these elite few.

    The premise for this pre-fabricated gated community for the under 5 inch community has many comic opportunities in contrasting our big vs. small universes and much of that goal is incorporated in the film’s first half. But then the tone of the film sifts dramatically and gets more serious about poverty, class warfare, environmental issues, and immigration. It is at this midway point that the film loses all of its sense of humor and slogs its way to an absurd finish.

    The scattered screenplay by the director and co-writer Jim Taylor goes wildly off track. The plot becomes convoluted and exasperating, in need or major rewrites. Characters are introduced and lost midway with less interesting ones added. One such role, , an annoying Vietnamese housekeeper is well played by Hong Chau, who makes this part far more appealing than it deserves. The actress steals the movie cold and makes this poorly written stereotypical harpy role memorable with her acting choices. However, one never believes any attraction or chemistry between her and Mr. Damon, who suddenly goes from idealistic hero to helpless doofus for no real reason. Fine actors such as Christoph Waltz, Jason Sudakis, and Kristen Wiig are wasted in smaller or ill-conceived parts. Other characters played by Laura Dern, Neil Patrick Harris and Margo Martindale who become cameos in need of more screen time.

    Visually, the CGI is mostly effectively done, but the props and production design have a problem with size proportioning that is glaringly off and inconsistent when it should be more accurate to make the film concept resonate.

    Mr. Payne may have let his ego and oversized imagination get the best of him. In the case of Downsizing, this usually strong director loses his focus and his vision, entirely missing the big picture. Let’s hope he will grow from his small missteps like this wonky film.

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