Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau
Release Date: Out Now
There’s no doubting that Alexander Payne is one of the best adapted screenplay writers of this day and age. He has clocked up a number of wins with previous stories such as The Descendants and Sideways and has even provided what could be a cult film now in Election. This being said, I was rather looking forward to his next film, Downsizing. It had such an interesting concept and idea behind it. It’s as though a scientist attended a double bill of An Inconvenient Truth and The Borrowers and then just happily mashed them together…..a shame then that it falls a little flat.
To reiterate, the concept is interesting. Humanity is slowing crumbling, our treatment of the earth having caught up with us. Scientists from all fields are looking for ways to save us from extinction. In the scramble for salvation, a Scandinavian scientist uncovers a method of shrinking human beings to no more than a few inches tall. The implications are obvious; prolong life on earth by reducing our carbon footprint. Less food and products are consumed and thus, less waste.
As an added bonus, any volunteers to be downsized can also become millionaires, thanks to (what might be the only example of) financial deflation. This is when we meet Paul (Damon). Enchanted by the idea, he rambles about it everyone, including his ailing mother who scoffs at how such a thing is possible but she is still afflicted.
Flash forward 10 years and downsizing has become the norm, with many people around the world opting for this lifestyle. Paul is now living with his wife Audrey (Wiig), both of them looking to make a future for themselves. After finally paying off his student debts, they still struggle to afford anything worthwhile. After some tenuous consideration, the couple decide to go through with the process (with some prodding from an old school friend who recently downsized and is living the sweet life).
As one might guess, things don’t pan out as the couple hopes. A shaven Audrey, sporting only one eyebrow, backs out just moments before Paul himself is downsized, in what is quite a squeamish scene. Outraged, depressed, scared and curious, he engages in a gamut of emotions before finally deciding to enjoy living his new life. And while this might sound like the emotional taking off point, it’s actually from here that things start to take a dip. Paul becomes increasingly irritating, whining about how it was fate and destiny that these things have happened to him. He insists that his place in time couldn’t possibly have just been left to chance. For a film with such a cynical subtext, it’s somewhat jarring for these naïve sentiments to come to the fore.
If Paul were a more interesting, compelling character, the journey might have been more enjoyable. As it is, he is just about held up by a dynamic supporting cast. Dusan (Waltz) for example, is hugely entertaining on screen, chewing the scenery at every turn. And a surprise turn from Hong Chau gives us one of the films’ most intriguing characters in Ngoc Lan Tran.
There are so many twists and turns in Downsizing that it often feels like its stalling in liew of providing an actual ending. Even the End of the World plot comes across as arbitrary towards the conclusion, leaving the plot to fizzle when it should pop.
The trailers may give off a comedy vibe, but this is very rarely a funny film. As a political stance regarding environmentalism and consumerism, it raises some interesting points and frames them creatively but ultimately, it’s just not that effective.
Written by Graeme Redmond