Go small, or go home.
It’s the near-future, and Norwegian scientists may have finally cracked the code to solving all of the world’s problems like overpopulation, running out of resources, and global warming: Being able to make people 5 inches (13 cm) tall. Meaning, they’re small. Why does it matter? Well, at first, no one really knows and after awhile, a lot of people’s curiosities get peaked that a good portion of the Earth’s population is so intrigued, they can’t help but get with the program. One such person is Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) an Omaha Steaks physical-therapist who lives an ordinary life, with his ordinary wife (Kristen Wiig), in their ordinary house, and oh yeah, a whole bunch of debt. In fact, it’s so much debt that when they find out a bunch of their friends are now downsizing, they decide that their time is now and they’re ready to take the plunge. The only issue is that she doesn’t and he does, leaving Paul in this world full of miniature-sized people, places, and things and without a clue in the world of what to do.
Downsizing is a very large, ambitious step in an interesting directing from co-writer/director Alexander Payne who, in the past two decades, hasn’t found himself dealing with small, subtle, character-driven dramedies that are either funny, sad, dramatic, or all of the above. In a way, he’s been on a roll and while I don’t think every film of his is perfect, there’s no doubt denying the fact that the man has a way with movies and it’s shocking to see him take a huge leap towards something bigger, and it’s an even bigger shock to not see it work out all that well.
That said, an mess from Alexander Payne, is still a hell of a lot more interesting than most other messes out there. Still, it doesn’t get past the fact that Downsizing, for all of its ambitions and attempts at being about something far greater and bigger than it is, doesn’t quite reach its full potential. And it’s a shame because in the first hour or so, the movie is every bit as funny as Payne’s other flicks, but with a bit of a different edge to it all: Promise. Rather than just being a small, yet smart movie about everyday humans, in everyday situations, Downsizing shows Payne dealing with all sorts of crazy ideas, themes, strands of plot, and satire that we haven’t seen him play with and for awhile, it seems like he’s going to work through it all and give us something quite memorable.
But then, it turns the other cheek, goes down a different road, and loses itself completely.
Is it still interesting to watch? Sure, but it’s a sort-of mixed-bag. It’s the kind of movie that’s so melancholy, it doesn’t know whether it wants to be sad, overly dramatic, or hilarious. In a way, it’s sort of all those things, but ultimately, isn’t any of them; it feels like Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor are all trying their hands at anything they can find and work with, seeing what sticks, and pasting it altogether, and it’s admirable on their parts. But the movie is literally 130 minutes of barely any momentum, drive, or even energetic-pace, it just feels like a slog that doesn’t know where it wants to go, what it wants to say, or even what the ultimate end-game is.
It’s still, once again, an interesting movie to watch and see play-out because it’s a hell of a lot more mindful and equipped with ideas than most other dramedies out there, but it also feels like a slight disappointment, coming from Payne and co. Most of all though, it’s a slight disappointment for this cast, who are all great, but also feel as if they’re stuck inside a movie that’s still trying to figure itself out. Matt Damon is perfectly cast as the every-man who ends up becoming our conduit into this weird and wacky world, but also gets so pushed aside, it hardly ever matters if he’s even around.
But that also helps us because he’s pushed out of the way for other members of the cast, like Christoph Waltz, Udo Kier, and most of all, Hong Chau.
Yes, a lot of the buzz concerning Downsizing is a lot less concerned with how good or divisive the movie is, but how good Chau is here, giving us a performance that borders on being a Vietnamese-stereotype, but still has enough heart, humor, emotion, and fun to it all, that it ends up saving the movie. With her broken English, demanding personality, and naggy ways, the movie could have easily made her the punchline to her own joke, but both Payne, Taylor, and Chau see some humanity in this character, which helps her go above and beyond a sketch. She’s smart, sassy, but also a human being and watching how she gets along with everyone around her, is one of the real true beauties about Downsizing.
Unfortunately, it’s one of the only ones.
Consensus: Despite a whole heap of promise and solid performances, Downsizing still falls short of its huge ambitions, but also proves to be an interesting mess on behalf of the always watchable Alexander Payne.
6 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Paramount