Matt Damon has starred in his fair share of ambitious films recently, and that trend continues with Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, the story of crazy, new technology that allows people to shrink in size to avoid the possibility of overpopulation and other global issues that currently plague existence. The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Alexander Payne
Written By: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor
Scientists discover incredible new technology that allow humans to shrink to approximately five inches in size, leading to a possible remedy for overpopulation. However, one of the most appealing aspects of “Downsizing” is that the dollar is worth much more to those that shrink, allowing people to escape their financial issues and live like kings.
As a result, Paul (Damon) and his wife Audrey (Wiig) decide to take part in the movement. But, Audrey backs out at the last second, causing Paul to have to handle the small life by himself.
Alexander Payne is considered one of the better directors on the independent circuit, delivering quality films like Sideways and The Descendents in recent years. However, it was during that seven year break between those films just mentioned where Payne originally conceived the idea for Downsizing with fellow writer Jim Taylor. The duo spent almost two and a half years on the script, but the project was later put on the back burner for some of Payne’s other films.
But, after the film’s rights changed hands, the film finally went into production and quickly became a highly polarizing film upon its release. Some of the brightest critics in Hollywood have declared Downsizing complete and utter garbage, whereas others such as the National Board of Review declared it one of the best ten films of the year. The film has even garnered awards consideration from the Golden Globes for Hong Chau’s performance in a supporting role.
Paramounts hopes that the buzz for Downsizing, both positive and negative, leads to a quality box office return as the studio sorely needs a hit. At the time I write this article, Paramount holds only a 5% market share of box office receipts for the year, meaning that cash is very hard to come by these days for the company.
Ideas are Abundant in Downsizing
Alexander Payne’s Downsizing is incredibly engrossing when centered around the main premise. There’s an inherent aspect of whimsy that comes with seeing people that are the size of action figures interact with fully grown humans and other regularly sized objects.
The science fiction elements of the film are presented in such a manner that they seem plausible. There’s little intricacies that must be accounted for during the Downsizing process that grounds the advance medical procedure in reality. The sequence is incredibly meticulous, funny, and truly bizarre, making for great cinema.
The act of Downsizing is more than just a fascinating idea for a trailer. The film goes deep into the ramifications of the procedure. For a lot of characters, the procedure does a lot of good by reducing the financial stresses of living and providing a clean start on life. But, Payne smartly notes that the rapid decrease in the population of regular-sized humans could lead to a sharp decline in consumer spending and hurt the economy tremendously. Payne delivers the idea of Downsizing with enough duality to leave the viewer pondering what their actions would entail.
A Controversial Performance Could Make or Break Downsizing for a Lot of People
Then, Downsizing becomes a completely different movie, turning into a mid-life crisis film with limited “tiny” elements. Alone and unsure of himself, Damon’s character quickly teams up with Hong Chau’s character for a completely different journey.
However, what has many people buzzing (for reasons both good and bad) is the performance of Hong Chau. Chau speaks with a heavy Asian accent that is very evident in her use of broken English. Many have claimed her peformance as racist, depicting a stereotypical Asian-American. And yet, some film groups have showered Chau with praise, leaving it squarely in the grey area.
Chau’s backstory is eerily similar to her character’s in the film. Her Vietnamese heritage will certainly have people spinning trying to figure out whether or not they find Chau’s work acceptable. But, there’s no doubting that her character has a lot to handle, proving her strength and resolve aside Matt Damon. In a film that loses its edge, Chau does her very best to lighten Dowsizing’s tedious second half by becoming the most compelling character.
Ultimately a Frustrating Final Product
However, for all the intrigue and fascination that Downsizing sets up, it fails to deliver on most of it. As mentioned earlier, the film quickly becomes a standard mid-life crisis film in its second half with little to do with the actual concept of shrinking in size. Unfortunately, Matt Damon’s character (Paul Safranek) isn’t very compelling to prop up the sudden character-driven narrative. You might like his character because Matt Damon is a likable actor, but its difficult to attribute any definable character traits to him. Paul Safranek is merely a middle-age white guy struggling to find his way.
Without a fascinating character in the lead role to make the journey worthwhile, Downsizing peters out once it dispands its quirky idea. The questions that the film raises in its first half are thrown aside, leaving those that were fully invested either frustrated or annoyed.
Alexander Payne’s 7th feature film is clever, absorbing, and different. Yet, it’s in a constant battle with itself, unsure of what it ultimately wants to say.
Downsizing has an a ton of ideas at its disposal that are suprisingly timely and effective. Alexander Payne sets up an interesting dilemma to make for a great film, but he eventually diverts from the discussion of going small for a slightly heightened look into a mid-life crisis that will leave many audience members feeling cold.
Hong Chau and the rest of cast keeps things interesting, but Downsizing can’t help but feel frustrating as its overly long story fails to deliver on what it establishes from the beginning.
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