Contrary to what many people may believe, bigger isn’t necessary better. Such is the message of Downsizing, which centres around a revolutionary technology used to reduce people to a size of no more than 12cm. Sometimes, less really is more.
Perhaps ironically, that concept can be applied to this quirky film itself, which starts out very promisingly, but goes on and on for far too long, turning into something completely different by the end.
Its first two-thirds are a rather delightful sci-fi comedy of quirks. Shame about it’s ending, where it turns into a preachy, somewhat predictable rom-com. If only we could have shrunk those scenes into near-nothingness, the final film might have been a lot more enjoyable.
Downsizing takes place in a not-so-far-away future, where scientists have successfully tested a ‘downsizing’ technology on a colony in Norway. (Amusing fact: I don’t think the word ‘shrink’ is ever used at all in this film!)
Becoming small, it turns out, allows you to live large: a dollar goes a lot further when a single cracker can feed you for several days!
While some people are wary about living their lives the size of a human palm, others are far more open to it. These include therapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) who signs up for the procedure with his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig).
Paul ends up moving to Leisureland, one of the most popular communities for the “downsized”. While things seem idyllic, it isn’t long before he discovers the darker side of his new lifestyle. Stick a bunch of people together, after all, and problems will arise; it doesn’t matter if they are big or small.
The concept of people becoming tiny for economic reasons may sound a little familiar. It was used in a Doraemon comic, for those who might remember!
Downsizing, fortunately, uses it’s “small people” as more than just a gimmick; instead it explores themes of economic inequality, exploitation, prejudice and environmental damage, among other things.
Damon does a decent job as the well-meaning, if disillusioned Paul. Wiig, on the other hand, is wasted as Audrey, whose relationship with Paul is treated as a side plot that is conveniently forgotten by the film’s middle.
It is the supporting characters, however, that steal the show. Christoph Waltz looks like he’s having the time of his life playing Dusan, Paul’s shady, party-loving Serbian neighbour. Also look out for fun cameos by Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern!
The film’s most interesting piece, however, is actress Hong Chau, who delivers a striking performance as Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese activist who ends up in Leisureland against her will.
Initially, the character seems only there for comic relief: An embarassing ethnic stereotype of the ‘I love you long time’ variety. As Downsizing progresses, however, depths are revealed, and Ngoc ends up the most interesting character in the film … so much so that you wished the film was about her instead of Paul!
Exploring Downsizing’s society for the tiny is a marvellous treat, and allows director Payne to incorporate some lovely visuals and little sight gags.
Sadly, once the intricacies of Downsizing’s world have been fleshed out, the film begins to sag. While the concept of downsizing is visualised well, it doesn’t look as though this film explored it to its fullest.
For example, the big and little communities are mostly separated from each other throughout the film, when it might have been more interesting to see them interact. Is it possible for these groups to form friendships? Can they fall in love, and how do they make it work?
Worse still, an appearance by Dr. Jorgen Asbjornsen (Rolf Lassgard), the scientist responsible for the downsizing procedure, sparks off an environmental subplot that completely upsets the feel of the movie.
Downsizing is certainly entertaining at parts, although it somehow lacks the satirical bite of director Payne’s previous films like Election and About Schmidt.
It still definitely is worth a watch though. When was the last time you saw a comedy centred around themes of overpopulation and mass extinction? Making that, after all, is no small wonder.
Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig