Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Matt Damon is shrinking in the new fantasy-esq fable "Downsizing." Except, the movie's title doesn't refer to cutting down on costs, and laying off employees. Instead, in the not so distant future, humans will have the option to inflate their piggy banks, undergo a permanent and costly procedure, and become "0.0063%" their normal body mass. Meaning: they're five inches tall. "Downsizing" is basically "Honey I Shrunk The Kids," except it has a grown up message, and is definitely not for kids.
Alexander Payne has always made films down to earth. My favorite of his catalog is "Nebraska" a brass, shot in black and white, drama that was hardly seen outside of hardcore award enthusiasts. His latest isn't a giant leap into mainstream moviegoing, but I wager it will be the most widely seen in his filmography. "Downsizing" is an intricate environment parable, a story of a man whose problems only get bigger as he gets smaller - a message that could be too much for the average moviegoer, who might be thinking this was a comedy about people being small.
Damon stars as that man, an earnest, happy-go lucky husband that is yearning for his purpose in life. He's Paul Safranek (and yes, everyone mispronounces his name) - and like most people, he sees the procedure to "go small" as something really intriguing. I mean, the idea of seeing $150,000 of your life savings being stretched close to $15 million, in a place called "Leisure Land," would win most people over. But first, you've got to commit, and there's also a "1 in 225,000 chance of death" upon completion of downsizing. Payne does what he does best here, showcasing the in-depth and very throughout "shrinking" process. A specific, detailed and well written sequence and It's quite the journey. From shaving the hair of your entire body, to removing any dental fillings as to make sure you head doesn't explode. The movie was answering questions I didn't even know I had about the cost of going small. And then, after the procedure is completed, they get scraped of a bed with a spatula like pancakes on a stove. This may sound strange, and it is, but I was cackling through the whole ordeal.
Once Paul gets to his humble abode, and where the best aesthetic of the movie shines brightest - the production design, Paul has to adjust to his new size, and the single life (as his wife, got cold feet and didn't fully go through with the procedure). As time passes, he grows more weary. What is his purpose? Did he make the right move? He somewhat finds the answers in his party crazed European upstairs neighbor (Christoph Waltz - further proving his comedic chops) and Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau - in the films breakthrough performance). The latter of which, is a Vietnamese activist who is a refugee constantly fighting the good fight. Their paths cross after Paul accidently breaks her prosthetic foot, and feels like he owes her a debt. The movie has been smart in hiding the character from the marketing, it's like a secret weapon that Payne has been holding back. She's also the best thing in this movie.
But for as imaginative and quirky "Downsizing" is, Payne can't quite grasp the message he desperately wants to convey. Yes, we know global warming is very prominent in society today, but does the movie say anything we didn't already know? The biggest flaw of "Downsizing" is that it wants to tackle big ideas. It also has a tonal imbalance. Does it want to be a comedy? a drama of environmental proportions? or a dig at corporate synergy? It briefly touches on all those aspects, but then doesn't culminate to much in the end.
In addition to that, the movie also plays like a fun tongue and cheek homage to the aspects of the QVC life. And it plays like one big infomercial. Payne even enlists in Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, and Jason Sudeikis in extended cameos to help sell the fantasy. In the end, it won't matter how that all relates, what will is how audiences react to the material. "Downsizing" does have the luxury of selling this stuff without becoming to preachy, and the way in which Payne shoots his film with forced perspective is easy on the eyes. Because, seeing gigantic bottles of Absolut Vodka next to a full size Damon is oddly comical. Yet, for as topical, well acted, and slightly buzzy the film is, "Downsizing," when all is said and done, still comes up just a bit short. B