What if global sustainability became such an issue that mankind devised a way to shrink individuals to a minuscule 13 centimetres in order to save the planet?
That is the fascinating question posited by writer-director Alexander Payne (Nebraska, The Descendants, Sideways) in his latest sci-fi satire.
Thanks to breakthrough technology, Norwegian scientists develop the ability to make people go from big to very small. They propose a 200-year worldwide transition but there’s just one catch – shrinking is irreversible.
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Despite the procedure’s permanence, many are on board with the idea. ‘Downsizing’ means you can live in a huge mansion for a fraction of the cost and create very little annual waste in the grand scheme of things. The solution is twofold; you get to be rich and help the earth.
After heavy soul-searching, Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) decides he wants to undergo the process. His wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) may not be so keen. Following some rigorous treatment, which includes shaving off all his body hair, Paul is downsized and begins a new life in the tiny town of Leisureland.
While there he befriends an aging party animal neighbour played by Christoph Waltz and a former political dissident (Hong Chau) who was shrunk against her will by the Vietnamese government.
Though Downsizing opens with tremendous promise, its meandering plot starts to stall the story and it eventually kind of limps to the finish line. It’s as if co-writers Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor’s big ideas got away from them and they weren’t sure how to satisfyingly wrap things up. Yet, there is a lot to enjoy about this movie.
The film’s first half is a rather intriguing bit of realistic science-fiction. It’s full of eye-catching sight gags reminiscent of the 1989 kid flick Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. But where that movie went for fun and adventure, Downsizing proposes several timely concepts aimed directly at adults.
The satirical approach, though never razor-sharp in the first place, begins to dull towards the film’s conclusion. When the inventive visuals are put on hold, the story becomes another relationship drama about social class.
Thankfully, Damon is up to the task and relative unknown Hong Chau gives a rather remarkable performance. The two are fun to watch and build a natural chemistry but also make Downsizing feel like two competing movies at times.
Technically-speaking, the film is impeccably mounted and handsomely presented. Alexander Payne’s strong direction – and impressive track record as a filmmaker – bolsters the aesthetic.
The props and visual effects are pretty cutting edge and the movie is crisply shot by Greek cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, Payne’s longtime collaborator.
In the end, Downsizing could have been biting social commentary but its script ultimately can’t sustain itself. Still, the film bears enough merit when it comes to acting, production, and overall themes to make it worth a watch. It’s also a decent science-fiction drama with a few well-earned laughs.
Downsizing gets 3 out of 5 pieces of popcorn.
Playing at a theatre near you. Rated 14A and is 135 minutes long.