Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Jason Sudeikis, Kristen Wiig, Maribeth Monroe, Udo Kier
Run Time: 135 mins
Downsizing, director Alexander Payne’s latest, is an interesting beast in a strong body of work. Set in a near future, the narrative utilises the lofty concept of ‘downsizing’, the irreversible process pioneered by Norwegian doctors of shrinking humans down to approximately five inches tall as a means of combatting overpopulation. Opening in a world where both normal and ‘downsized’ people co-exist, the film follows strapped-for-cash occupational therapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) who lives with his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig). They ponder ‘downsizing’ after meeting a friend at a reunion party, who reveals other benefits – chiefly, financial security.
To reveal anymore would be a disservice to the film as this is what is sold in the marketing. However, Downsizing has a lot hidden up its sleeve, perhaps accounting for the film’s decidedly mixed reception. Downsizing is actually a lot better than the reviews would suggest and is a marvel in world-building. The little worlds that Payne creates are frequently awe-inspiring and the minutiae admirable, greatly elevating the verisimilitude of the film.
That said, a tonal shift mid-way through the film does feel like a switch-and-bait. There is still enjoyment to be had in the slightly more familiar, ‘finding oneself’ narrative route Payne explores, even though its moral messages are delivered heavy-handedly.
Downsizing balances comedy and emotion rather well and is bolstered by being thematically rich and chock-full of metaphors, right down to the very concept of the film itself that interrogates political and planetary notions. The performances are all generally sound with the highlights being Christoph Waltz and Udo Kier. Waltz deviates from playing a villain and to see both German-speaking stalwarts share the screen is very satisfying.
Downsizing is overall, a commendable effort by Alexander Payne with transfixing world-building but it requires one to have faith in the tonal shift in the second half. The first half is much stronger, but the direction it takes thereafter is probably why many have taken quite sourly to the film: you don’t exactly get what the trailers promised.