<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Alexander Payne. Starring Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Jason Sudeikis, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Hong Chau, Udo Kier
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Downsizing is an overly long film that turns out to be something you don’t expect. I loathed it at some points and laughed out loud at others.
The first thing most would think about – especially those who grew up in the 80s – when they see a film about people who are reduced in size in a movie is the film Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. That wonderfully fantastical tale about members of a family shrunk down smaller than a blade of grass was an adventure of epic proportions. I must watch it again. Another film that comes to mind is Inner Space about a guy shrunk down to navigate the interiors of a human body.
Downsizing is totally not like either of these movies. In it, scientists from Norway invent a technique to shrink humans to about 5 inches in size and justify it by saying this will solve the world’s pollution and overpopulation crisis. Of course, the West packages this new tech as the ideal way to live life king size: your dollar in the ‘big world’ will get you hundreds of dollars in the ‘little world’.
Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) aren’t doing so badly in the ‘real world’. But they’re toying with the idea of ‘downsizing’ because they’re aspirations of the good life are pretty high. And Leisureland – one of the many luxury towns in the world – seems to be the perfect place to start anew. But for Paul, his life doesn’t turn out the way he expects it.
Director Alexander Payne (Read this interview with him Alexander Payne on Downsizing: ‘The film isn’t a major statement – it’s a metaphor’ at theguardian.com) in has crafted a story that covers many genres. His execution is odd and almost creepy in places. There’s a whole montage of the downsizing process that involves excavating the bowels, removing dental implants and shaving all the hair of people who have chosen to undergo the process. It’s uncomfortable and disturbing when you see them shrunk down and being scooped up in spatulas into little beds like pieces of meat patty.
Paul’s neighbour Dusan (Christoph Waltz) makes things even weirder and funnier as he tells Paul what a good, but pathetic person he is. Paul’s adventure really begins when he meets the one legged Vietnamese radical Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) who helps the not so well off in Leisureland.
Don’t expect to see much comparison between the regular world and the downsized one though. Once you’re into it, there’s pretty little reference to the big world. What’s more important is the subject matter. And with this, Payne covers a gamut of issue: climate change, racial profiling, class barriers, consumerism, cults, human interactions and more. You don’t really get a clear picture of what the film is trying to say, but you know that it has its heart in the right place. It’s just a weird little black, Tim Burton-esque kinda heart.
Hong Chau’s grating accent is irritating at first but she turns out to be the soul of the movie.
Downsizing could’ve just been a regular Hollywood film about a miniaturised person lost in a world of regular-sized people but it turns out to be more. This isn’t necessarily a good thing; it’s certainly unique though.
PS: Jason Sudeikis’s role seems totally pointless in the film.