Downsizing Review


By: Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

As 2017 comes to an end, so does the world. Ok, not really, totally being facetious here. Yet, one may argue, as each year passes, the longevity of human life on planet Earth declines faster and faster. Why, one might ask? Contributing factors include the overuse of natural resources, rising seawaters, global warming, over-population, and more. Probably not something we will have to deal with in our lifetimes, but, in the distant future, generations will have a harder go at it when it comes to what we now take for granted. And this central idea of humanity slowly making the Earth uninhabitable is the foundation of Alexander Payne’s latest film: Downsizing.

In the not-so-distant future, Norwegian scientists find a way to shrink lab mice to a fraction of their normal height, and soon are able to shrink human beings as well. The reason for this ethical choice: the world’s resources are running out and, in order to preserve our world, we shrink people and use a fraction of what we’d normally use on a daily basis. Also, another little nugget to influence people to go small: you’ll live like suburban royalty. In essence, to become small is to become rich, where your assets are worth 100 times what they are when you’re normal height. For Omaha couple Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey (Kristen Wiig), downsizing seems like an answer to their prayers. Paul had to give up pre-med to take care of his sick mother, becoming an occupational therapist, and Audrey has dreamed of having a big house and living a more lavish life. Thus, downsizing, becoming super rich and moving to mansion land (actually called Leisureland, a suburb in New Mexico for downsized people) is just the solution, right? Unfortunately Audrey has a change of heart, leaving Paul on his own as a downsized man. Yet life goes on, and he meets his sleazy, yet charismatic upstairs neighbor, Dusan (Christoph Waqltz), specializing in cigars and alcohol, as well as Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau), a house maid for the wealthy in Leisureland who was shrunk against her will and deals with poverty and a prosthetic leg. It is through these people that Paul learns what it really means to be alive and to finally live a life worth living.

Downsizing has the traditional Alexander Payne feel to it, yet he maneuvers away from that, taking a fresher approach to his typical style of story and directing. Yes, the film is a reflection of Payne’s views on current world concepts, and shows the disparity of the working class compared with the wealthy, yet Payne takes it a step further to incorporate other social injustices, and prejudices, that tend to raise their ugly heads in most situations. For instance, at a bar, a drunk patron states how the downsized only deserve a fraction of the vote. Or how people from other countries are downsized against their will, and shipped off to other countries to get rid of them, for political reasons or other. Payne bluntly depicts the downside of downsizing, complications socially that arise, and how there are always those who hold hate and anger towards people who are different from them. Yet, with all of that aside, we still see the humanity in the main characters, and the desire to do right and help those who are less fortunate then ourselves. One of the most humane aspects of Payne’s films is how he extends the hand of empathy to the film’s flawed heroes, and Downsizing is no different. Payne builds these films so perfectly, and with so much precision, that it can take away the spontaneity of a film to the point we know what is going to happen based on our characters and having seen previous films.

Matt Damon infuses Paul with the sweetest of human decency, almost to the point you feel he’s just a walking, talking teddy bear on screen. Damon delivers so much honesty and feeling through his almost stereotypical nice guy character, we yearn to see a few other levels in the character. He’s too perfect, to the point you think he’d wear your skin if he had a nervous breakdown and snapped one day. Yet, he doesn’t snap, even when things are at their worst, and there aren’t any Silence of the Lambs moments to be found. Christoph Waltz seems to melt into his character, making him as Eurotrash and sleazy, yet likable and extremely rich as a playboy should. He opens Paul’s eyes to a new side, and also introduces him to the real star of the film, played by Hong Chau. She begins the character like a broken stereotype, spitting venom at Paul and Americans and then molds into the film’s most surprising character. If anything, it is her character’s transformation and blunt reality and way of presenting life that guides Damon’s Paul and influences the trajectory of the film.

Downsizing isn’t a perfect film in any way. It starts off with a direct path and then starts to throw in multiple story elements, which could have been their own mini movies on their own, and tries to give ample time to the many difficulties of life which are happening all around. The outcome? Nothing receives that ample screen time for story development it has earned, and we’re left with a Cliffs Notes version of these stories and how they fit into the grand scheme of the whole. Yet, by adding in these story elements, ideas that are bolder and more profound are brought to light and teach us we have to find other ways to deal with our current problems. Downsizing may not be Payne’s best film, but it may be his best film in terms of bringing new perspectives on our current world problems to light.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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