With Alexander Payne’s latest science fiction dramedy, Downsizing, exploring the concept of shrinking down made me ponder thoughts about this question: Is it the best idea to make yourself small to live a different lifestyle? The comedy-drama might persuade me, but it takes those chances away when the film continues its way to very underwhelming results.
What’s the Story?: When scientists find a way to shrink humans to five inches tall, Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to ditch their stressed-out lives in order to get small and live large in a luxurious downsized community– where his middle classes saving will make his worthy.
I heard about Downsizing for a while now since this concept that Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor (About Schmidt, Sideways) came up with. And after finding the trailers interesting enough, maybe this could be one of 2017’s best original films of the year. Maybe this could be the adult Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. From the early word that I heard from the Venice International Film Festival and TIFF, it gained a mixed response from people. Before this even came out, it was chosen by the National Board of Reviews as one of the year’s best. That’s hard to believe since Downsizing is probably one of the most disappointing films to come out for some time.
Damon plays the likable everyman Paul at first where he wants to make a difference in his life. That is until his wife backs out of the transformation and leaves him small living his own life after that. After a while, his performance just isn’t caring when he’s tiny. He lives above his rich, neighbors Dusan and Joris (a serviceable Christoph Waltz and Udo Kier), who throw these insane parties.
Even with the things that I dislike about the film, I still command Payne for developing this original concept. With this beautiful direction and surprisingly good production design with the visual effects to make the scope’s perspective of making normal objects look bigger is impressive. Too bad it was executed in a way that’s unexpected and downplays the rest of the experience.
Hong Chau (Inherent Vice) plays Ngoc Lan, a Vietnamese dissident who was forced to shrink down and now works for housekeeping with a prosthetic leg. There wasn’t any real chemistry between Cheu and Damon to believe that her situation is worth caring for. There was a chance for this friendship that was established in the beginning may turn into a romance. And I may be wrong, but her performance feels like a stereotyped with her broken English accent. The decision to make her talk like that didn’t work. She did earn a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Golden Globe. Her performance was fine, although I don’t see the hype.
Remember how Darren Aronofsky wanted to make mother! To show that the planet is becoming crazy or something, it looks like Payne’s is wanting to convey the same thing when he makes it kind of obvious that the message is about saving the environment, white privilege, pollution in the future. You can clearly see that Payne is trying to push forward these ideas for bigger changes; it just makes Downsizing overlong and boring to follow when it doesn’t take full advantage on the premise.
While it wants to provide big ideas to show the film’s deep meaning, Downsizing doesn’t capture good senses to possibly make it redeemable to make this unfunny comedy work. Does Damon need a hug? Because 2017 doesn’t seem to be a great year for him because with The Great Wall, Suburbicon, and now this, it’s pretty terrible for a leading man like him to be in three stinkers that not a lot of people enjoyed. Usually, Payne has a fantastic track record of great movies, but as of right now, it’s Payne’s worst film he’s directed, in my opinion.
Downsizing may have an original and interesting concept in its hands of Alexander Payne, but the end result is executed poorly in a boring and unimaginative way. Grade: D+