Downsizing


★★

Directed by Alexander Payne

Starring Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Udo Kier

BFI London Film Festival Review by Chris Olson


Honey I Shrunk the audience's patience in this sci-fi comedy Downsizing, starring Matt Damon as an everyman who leaves behind everything to join a community of people who have succumbed to the allure of brand new shrink technology. Living in consumerist heaven, these micro-societies are able to live the good life at a fraction of the cost (in money and for planet Earth), at least that’s the idea. However, once Paul (Damon) arrives having been jolted at the last minute by an uncertain Kristen Wiig, he finds that even in tiny town his problems are the same.

Known for quirky comedies like About Schmidt and Sideways, Alexander Payne is a filmmaker that likes to take a running ideological stab at the average American. With Downsizing, the preaching has reached unbearable levels, with constant reminders that our planet is dying, people are generally lazy and useless, and that looking after the “little guy” is just as important as smoking cuban cigars. His story, co-written with Jim Taylor, fails to deliver enough comedic heft to balance such weighty concerns and instead leaves a carbon footprint that will wash away with audiences rather quickly.

Damon is unfortunately quite bland, and given his decent turn in a lighter film like We Bought A Zoo, it seems confusing that his portrayal of this character could seem so unremarkable. He treads water for the majority of the movie, maintaining a dull metronome of cliched white man problems. His humanitarian efforts as an occupational therapist aside, there is nothing really to him. The comedy is left up to a charismatic neighbour (Christoph Waltz) and quirky cleaner (Hong Chau), both of whom needed introducing much earlier in Downsizing. As Paul attempts to find a destiny in life, Waltz’s character attempts to make a fortune selling illicit goods and Chau’s dynamic dissident wants to continue helping those less fortunate.

The whole thing is incredibly messy. It is massively clunky and overlong, as if someone tried to staple together a science fiction B-Movie script with a leaflet about global warming and then wrote the movie flipping backwards and forwards between the two. There is a nice degree of nostalgic warmth about the filmmaking, and Waltz is having a wonderful time grinning maniacally at the camera, and many viewers may find it charming and offbeat, but it will baffle others how a film attempting to deal with the end of the world could lack any real conflict! There is an injection of adventure at times and some of the earlier sequences involving sizist people - who think that “tinies” should only be allowed a quarter of a vote - would have been a more interesting angle to explore, but sadly the narrative goes on an existential exploration of a rather boring character who attempts to find himself, only to find out that he’s not that interesting.

Spectacularly average and way too long, considering the cast and filmmaking talent, Downsizing is as disappointing as opening up the tumble dryer to find you have shrunk all your favourite socks...who just lay there, lifeless, and covered in static.

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