Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” seamed like it was ripe with the potential to be an engaging satire. The idea of humans undergoing a shrinking process so they can live a better quality of life (while helping the environment) is a compelling one. Unfortunately, Payne doesn’t take us anywhere all that interesting. Sure, the visual effects look great, and there are some amusing sequences but there just isn’t a whole lot else here.
The film centers on Paul (Matt Damon) who has undergone the downsizing procedure which made him five inches tall. The plan was to shrink down with his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) and live together in the upscale “small people community”, Leisure Land. Needless-to-say that Paul is not very happy after learning Audrey changed her mind while he was being shrunk. Now with the divorce and Paul giving up much of their savings, he is forced to work as a phone operator and move into a Leisure Land condo. The only bright side is that he has made a new friend with his upstairs neighbor, Dusan (Christoph Waltz) who likes to throw big parties.
Things begin to change for Paul after meeting Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a former Vietnam activist who was shrunk down against her will and lost her leg in the process. After accidentally breaking her prosthetic leg while trying to fix it, he agrees to help her with her daily duties until it can be replaced. This includes her job cleaning homes and picking up food for the less fortunate. It turns out that Leisure Land has its’ own version of the projects in which mini-people can’t afford healthcare or food. Thankfully, Paul does have a medical background and is able to do some good. I actually liked the growing relationship between Paul and Ngoc but the final act in “Downsizing” is where the film really lost me.
The biggest problem with “Downsizing” is that it’s so drawn out for such a simple message. We don’t really need 135 minutes of being preached to. If there is one major saving grace, it is that of Hong Chau. I have never seen her before and she is wonderful, giving one of this year’s very best performances. There is a part of me that wants to recommend “Downsizing” for her alone. However, a supporting role in a 2+ hours film isn’t enough to justify you shelling out for a ticket for a mediocre movie.
By: Marc Ferman