Movie Review – ‘Downsizing’

The film wants to say big things, but falls disappointingly short.

Review by J.T. Johnson


DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Phedon Papamichael
WRITERS: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
MUSIC: Rolfe Kent

In a spot of irony, the film “Downsizing” definitely wants to be a bigger movie than it actually is. We follow Matt Damon’s character, Paul Safranek, as he goes through the process of downsizing. Having been developed years before, downsizing was invented as a way for people to shrink themselves down so that they would use less waste and help save the environment.

We’re humans, though, so naturally we take the technology and make it a for profit business where only 3% of the world has actually gone through with the process. The movie takes forty minutes just to show us what Paul will have to give up and the procedure it takes to make him smaller. During this time, we are introduced to possible themes such as whether or not small people should be allowed the same rights as normal sized people since their contributions to the economy and the workforce is also minimized.

This is a good theme, but unfortunately we never revisit this theme again. Why? Because we got to see Paul get shaved everywhere, get his fillings taken out and get a phone call from his wife telling him that she couldn’t go through with it after he’s already gone through with the procedure. Then, we get to see Paul mope around for far too long before he actually meets anyone else that’s interesting.

The movie doesn’t really have anything to say until the last thirty minutes of the film. Before I get to that, though, I will mention what I liked about the movie. I loved this strange world we are introduced to and the film definitely picks up when Paul finally meets his supporting cast members, primarily Christoph Waltz as a partying entrepreneur named Dusan Mirkovic and Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese activist that was initially shrunk against her will.

Damon is as dependable as ever as the lead, but Waltz turns in a supporting role that makes me want to like this film more than I actually do. Dusan is a genuinely likable character and when he explains certain things such as how his businesses work, I’m actually paying attention.

The same can be said for Chau, who is playing the role with broken English that I’m sure some will criticize for being too stereotypical. All I can say is that while Chau does play with the dialogue for some laughs, this is also the only character that was able to elicit any sort of dramatic response out of me for the entire film.

Like I said earlier, though, the last thirty minutes is where the filmmakers decided that they had better look beyond just saying, “Gee golly, isn’t this downsizing thing wonderful?” Their solution is a hammy environmental message that turns out to be way too preachy. Also, it is at this point where I felt I was also watching an entirely different film than the one I came in to watch in the first place.

Yes, the filmmakers behind “Downsizing” want to say many big things, but by the end of the film, they end up saying nothing meaningful at all. It’s not the worst film I’ve seen all year, but it is a dreadfully disappointing one.

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