“Downsizing” stars Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, and Kristen Wiig. Released on December 22, 2017, the film is about a couple who volunteers to shrink themselves in order to live better lives in a downsized community.
The film is directed by Alexander Payne, who also directed films such as Citizen Ruth, Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska. Just because 2017 is over doesn’t mean I can’t review at least a couple more films from last year. This next film sees Alexander Payne tackle a concept that involves a solution to overpopulation. That solution, my friends, is shrinking people and placing them in a minuscule town. It does sound insane when you think about it, but hey, you never know what the future might bring us. Despite the film’s mixed reception from critics and its underwhelming box office performance, it was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of the year. Plus, one of the supporting actors, Hong Chau, is receiving plenty of awards recognition for her performance, including a Golden Globe nomination. So far, I’ve only seen two of Payne’s other films (The Descendants and Nebraska), both of which are very well-made in my opinion, so it would be interesting to see if he can impress me again with this.
The story takes place in the near future, where scientists have invented an environmentally friendly process known as “downsizing”, which involves shrinking volunteers to the size of a fairy. The catch? It is irreversible, so better make your choices carefully. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the husband and wife (played by Damon and Wiig, respectively), who went through the procedure and the latter backed out at the very last minute. So now, the husband has to adjust to his new life as a small human being in a small community all by himself. The film’s marketing does describe it as some sort of a light-hearted comedy with a concept that reflects how people’s lives are affected by a procedure that may solve one of humanity’s biggest problems. Well, it is light-hearted and comedic during certain occasions, but it’s actually more of a small-scale drama that’s literally as small as the tiny people themselves. The film’s story does express the idea of how the process of “downsizing” can affect people’s lives, mostly Matt Damon’s character. Unfortunately, the concept took a massive detour at the start of the second half and reinvented itself as a cliched romantic comedy that involves Damon’s character and a Vietnamese activist, played by Chau. The idea still exists, but the deliverance on its themes wasn’t portrayed well enough. Despite these flaws, Alexander Payne was able to keep the story interesting thanks to some likable characters and its tolerable screenplay. Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig both delivered some very good performances as Paul and Audrey Safranek, respectively, but my personal highlights of the cast have to go out to Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau. Waltz absolutely nailed his role as Dusan, a playboy who is also Paul’s neighbor. I can definitely tell that he was having fun portraying his character due to his humor and his personality. As for Hong Chau, I can easily say that her first impression on screen was nothing but impressive. Although I would like to see Waltz get some awards recognition for his performance, it’s nice to see her grabbing some love from the other critics as well. Another aspect that I enjoyed the most was the visuals. Despite not being a science fiction blockbuster, the film shines in providing some beautiful visual effects that felt condensed and stunning in scale. Payne was able to create a satisfying small-scaled world that’s full of grace and majesty, as well as blending the small people in with the big people during a few scenes. It makes me wonder why it’s not getting any recognition for its visually stunning achievement.
Overall, despite its inability to fully explore its concept and its familiar romantic comedy elements, “Downsizing” is another solid effort from Alexander Payne. It does fall short (no pun intended) compared to his other works, but its talented cast, splendid visuals, and an engaging story provide enough juice to soar into “good watch” territory. I can understand why the film left a lot of people with mixed feelings, whether it’s the misleading trailers or the execution of its concept, but I don’t think it deserves some of the hate it’s been getting. Just saying. If you’re a fan of Payne’s filmography, you might like this one as well. Just don’t expect anything really special and you should be fine.