24th January 2018 (UK)
A social satire in which a man realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself to five inches tall, allowing him to live in wealth and splendor.
Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau
Matt Damon is the little man making a big difference in Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, a falsely advertised social satire with all the subtlety of an Al Gore documentary.
Struggling under the weight of personal finance issues and a want to better the environment, Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) make the drastic decision to ‘downsize’ – a pioneering scientific procedure resulting in them becoming a five inches tall. The process, developed by Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgård) in Norway, was developed to lower the impact of human existence on Earth and has become the norm in everyday life. Colonies and communities are specially made for small people, where money is worth much more than that of the regular size counterparts.
After being shrunk, however, Paul discovers that the seemingly perfect advertisements which sold him on the idea weren’t telling the whole story and just because you’re smaller doesn’t mean you can’t have big problems.
Starting out with enthusiasm and promise, Downsizing nosedives fast. The premise is interesting enough, albeit not particularly original (films have dealt with shrinking humans since the early 1900s). What is impressive though is Payne’s decision to take us through every painstaking step of the downsizing procedure, building a confident foundation for the rest of the film. A surprising turn early in the film’s second act is a welcome one, and the novelty of seeing a minuscule world is at first a wondrous sight. It’s a shame then that the script, penned by Payne and Jim Taylor, doesn’t capitalize on the early strength and instead opts to bash you over the head with its message of environmental protection.
The problem here isn’t the message itself, everyone could do their bit a little more to save the planet for sure, but its execution is so forceful that Downsizing stops becoming entertainment and begins to feel more like a stern lecturing or telling off for even existing.
After a while, it becomes difficult to determine the characters’ sizes too. There’s the occasional visual cue of a massive item to remind you that the characters are only a few inches tall (a head of a rose fills the room, a church band member uses a full-size tambourine and is dwarfed by the instrument and so on) and the camera does use a clever trick to make it appear everything is smaller than average but much like 3D movies, after a while you simply stop noticing.
Matt Damon is entertaining to watch in a role that doesn’t stretch him in the slightest, and he’s one of the films few positives as it wears on (and on, and on). Hong Chau as the demanding no-nonsense Vietnamese refugee Ngoc raises a few smiles, while Christoph Waltz is the undisputed show stealer as Dusan, the party-loving neighbour of Paul.
Some strong performances and a promising start aside, Downsizing isn’t one I can recommend. Its mammoth 2-hour 15 runtime desperately needed a shrinking and with an overbearing message of world conservation which was conveniently hidden from the trailers, it is no better than the misleading teleshopping-like presentation used in the film to try and lure in potential Downsizers.
Confident and interesting opening
Christoph Waltz is a joy to watch
Some gorgeous shots of Norway
Environmental message hammered on hard
Far too long
Can't answer the big questions it poses