Downsizing represents Director Alexander Payne’s first film in four years. Does this one continue his string of quality or should it just shrink away?
When scientists discover a way to shrink human beings down to five inches tall, a plan is enacted to try and save the planet from overpopulation. Because those who go through the process known as “downsizing” use less resources, their money goes much further, that’s music to the ears of Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), an occupational therapist working for Omaha Steaks. His wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), is convinced by the fact that “going small” will help them get their dream house. However, when things don’t exactly go the way Paul planned, he has to rethink his life while being five inches tall. He meets Dusan (Christoph Waltz), a lothario playboy; Konrad (Udo Kier), Dusan’s friend; and Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese political dissident who was downsized against her will, but she managed to escape to the U.S. Through Tran, Paul is introduced to people who downsized, but didn’t find the paradise others did. Also, will downsizing actually help the planet as envisioned?
I’m sorry to report that Downsizing was not the homerun I was hoping for, despite its extremely clever concept. It wasn’t nearly as funny as I’d hoped it would be, which was surprising for an Alexander Payne film, especially one he co-wrote—Jim Taylor is the other credited screenwriter. The story doesn’t flow well at all. The film feels like a few short stories stitched together and due to that scattershot approach, the true plot of the film kind of comes out of nowhere, especially the trip that makes up the third act. It’s not a terrible movie by any stretch, but I found it to be just fine. I expected much more from the talent assembled both in front of and behind the camera.
The cast does well with what they’re given. Damon does the yeoman’s work here, carrying the bulk of the plot. His story of trying to find his place in the world resonates, but it’s been done better before. Christoph Waltz is fantastic as Dusan. He gets the real fun role, as Dusan basically does what he feels with little to no repercussions. Realistic? No, but he’s fun to have around. The real star, though, is Hong Chau, who delivers an emotional, funny, and satisfying performance. She’s a great foil to Damon’s nice guy lead and shines brightly. I also enjoyed Udo Kier’s wonderfully weird performance as Konrad. He, along with Dusan, serves as great comic relief.
Overall, Downsizing needs to be marked as a disappointment. It could have been a really biting satire or a great adventure film, but it kind of ends up limply somewhere in the middle. Not terrible, not great, and not one you really need to see in theaters, but maybe check it out on Netflix sometime next year.