Written by: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Starring: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig
The impact of humanity on the environment cannot be understated and will lead to long-term unavoidable issues, which leads to creative bandages needing to be placed instead of addressing the real problem. In Downsizing, a truly innovative method gets presented, which has so much potential and despite having a tremendous collection of talent to support this concept, the execution feels flat.
With the foreseeable environmental crisis on the horizon, a new procedure has been invented that shrinks a person to about five inches. This accomplishes sustainable practices for the Earth by heavily minimizing the individual’s carbon footprint, but it also allows for several other tangible benefits. This gets the attention of Omaha couple Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey Safranek (Kristen Wiig), who want to undergo this procedure but they learn that anything too good to be true will always show its flaws.
Opting to take the procedure to downsize certainly has its benefits, both for the planet and for personal enrichment. The biggest factor, which eventually gets the attention of Paul and Audrey is the monetary expansion of the money they own. Their $52,000 savings converts to millions of dollars and allows for a more lavish lifestyle than they already have. It helps reduce the carbon footprint and enriches each individual, what could possibly go wrong? As the film shows, plenty can, and while the topic has its merit and notable fascination, the way it gets presented on-screen could not be duller.
Following Paul through this story certainly serves a purpose, as it brings a homely Midwestern guy to this cutting edge technology. The film is co-written and directed by Alexander Payne after all; there was certainly going to be some midwest connection. However, by having Paul as the protagonist to be an everyman it shows the lack of interest he cultivates. Following a glass of milk would have been more interesting, which only gets worse when Matt Damon cannot add charisma to this guy. Paul gets reserved to be a conduit for the premise, which proves to not have as much substance as it promises, With each of these gears failing, it leaves the film with not much to hang onto in regard to quality. It occurs when the novelty wears off, as the initial intrigue of the concept draws in attention but it has nowhere substantive to go. Sure, it displays exactly why this method is too good to be true, but the revelation produced a mere shrug from me as the story played out.
A shame really considering Alexander Payne tackles this subject and it proves he may have been out of his depth. When examining his other features, he knows how to get to the human experience through turmoil. Even as wildly colorful as the characters in his stories may be, the narratives remain incredibly grounded and human, which Downsizing fails to have in its concept and character progression. Instead, it falls into theoretical discussions of how this small world has just as many issues as the enlarged one. In a way, it feels empty with its overall messaging, especially with the way it boggles the human political aspects.
This mishandling occurs with the character Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) and what she represents to the story. While Paul entered willingly into being downsized for his own benefit, Ngoc Lan was forcefully shrunk because of her activism when enlarged. It opens up the tiny world to show the issues occurring within it, but Ngoc Lan is far too underdeveloped to have any resonance with this storyline. This lack of development truly harms the film because it’s meant to be such a vital part of the story, if not the entire point of telling it.
A valiant and ambitious idea gets proposed in Downsizing, which presents a possible solution to a global crisis. While the novelty of the concept has intrigue, it can only go so far and ultimately fails in the execution of its ideas. Even with the talent at the helm of this project, it just never came together to create something worth the large idea the film wanted to tackle. An unfortunate example of a project needing more refinement or an added perspective to fully come together as intended.