PARAMOUNT PICTURES (2018)
Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Rolf Lassgård
OK, that’s out of the way.
Downsizing, the seventh movie from director Alexander Payne, is a satirical-comedy-science fiction-drama (I think that’s all) about shrinking people in order to save the world. Well, there’s more to it than that but that’s your top-line synopsis. Combining a talented cast with a kooky story, the movie had a solid foundation with which to build upon, though there are a few stumbles before the finish line.
Those clever Norwegians, namely Dr Jørgen Asbjørnsen (Lassgård), have perfected the science of ‘downsizing’ human beings – the rationale being that small people eat less, waste less, use less finite resources and pollute less thus allowing the Earth to survive. It’s this solution that cash-strapped couple Paul (Damon) and Audrey Safranek (Wiig) turn to in order to live a better life – recommendations from buddy Dave (Sudeikis) and assorted Leisureland (a popular community for ‘small’ people) sales reps (briefly played by Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern) only twist their arm more. Trouble is, after Paul has undergone the shrinking procedure, Audrey has cold feet and completely backs out, leaving Paul alone and small in a strange, new life – the divorce papers soon follow. Stuck in just as low a rut as he was in before the procedure, things look bleak for Paul – now in a small apartment and working as a telemarketer. A visit to a party thrown by his utterly bon vivant neighbour Dusan (Waltz) changes everything for Paul as he eventually encounters activist and downsized refugee Ngoc Lan Tran (Chau) leading to a series of events that takes them to Norway to face some startling truths.
Downsizing implements Payne’s signature satirical stylings all throughout and boasts some clear messages for its audience that beat you around the head the further into the movie you go. Leisureland is pretty much a microcosm of America (or the world?) – in the ‘small’ world, the same life struggles exist (class divides, economic problems etc.). Paul tries to run away from the downtrodden, frightful ‘big’ world and winds up in basically the same spot. The clarity surrounding the call to protect Earth is shatteringly present and surprisingly poignant at times – plus we probably should be nicer to our lovely Mother Earth. There’s no attempt to hide the commentary, though at times, the narrative wobbles as it attempts to convey it.
Matt Damon (in a movie far better than his previous effort, the hideous Suburbicon) is likable and dependable as the down-on-his-luck Paul and Waltz is full of trademark zing with a remarkably strange accent. Hong Chau is the key performer, bringing some levity and providing the driving force for the second half of the movie.
The first half of the movie is a fun, bizarre sci-fi flick as the downsizing begins and the process is shown, there are some fun moments and visuals to be seen and plenty of opportunities to explore this different way of life – strangely and ultimately, the shrinking itself isn’t particularly important to the story and really only acts as a fun idea. The first half is certainly more entertaining than the more introverted second half as the tone shifts into a more spiritual direction and the pacing begins to suffer – the movie is honestly around fifteen minutes too long already.
Downsizing does allow Payne’s strengths as a visual storyteller to shine through, along with some nice cinematography from Phedon Papamichael. There are also some good gags peppered throughout the movie – whether it be newly-shrunk humans being carried in a dustpan, Waltz’s facial expressions or Chau’s strange ramblings, there’s enough here to raise a few laughs.
With a very decent first half – think an adult version of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (adult as in mature, not sexy...) or a riff on The Congress – and plenty of entertaining moments, Downsizing survives its patchy second half (which still isn’t particularly bad) and ends up being a slightly off-the-wall satirical swipe at the modern world. Not as good as it should have been, but certainly not as bad as it could have been.
Capitalism will destroy the world, folks.
January 11th 2018