Downsizing is an oddly amusing failure that devolves from something that’s intriguing and seemingly inspired into a film that could be a substitute for a sleeping pills.
The usually reliable Alexander Payne brings audiences his first real misstep with 2017’s Downsizing, a smartly conceived but poorly executed satirical-fantasy that manages the miraculous feat of wasting a terrific idea. Payne, the director behind masterpieces Sideways and Nebraska, likes to make his audiences wait between movies, usually satisfying our thirst for more acerbic wit and biting character-driven black comedy but here he’s oddly out of touch with a premise that deserved better.
Matt Damon is Paul Safranek, an occupational therapist who, having learned of a new invention that allows people to shrink to five inches tall thus combating a future that is suffering overpopulation, signs up to be “downsized”. His wife, Kristen Wiig’s Audrey Safranek, agrees to join him at first but later pulls out, leaving him to reassess what he wants to do with his life. This is further complicated by his friendship with Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a broadly brushed, stereotypical Vietnamese woman who was downsized against her will.
It’s distinctly a film of two halves which is detrimental for at least a couple of reasons. One, the dull last hour makes you long for the comedic delights and sparkling conceit of the first half. Two, it reminds you what could have been. And given the film’s lengthy running time, when things begin to go downhill dramatically and comedically, watch-checking is to be expected as Payne’s micro-fantasy reveals a director who appears less assured with elements of science-fiction. Indeed, he appears to banish the fantastical which makes the film feel even more out of tune.
In fact, Payne has overseen some terrific performances from actors who tend to need little encouragement to hit the high gears without overdoing it (see Paul Giamatti in Sideways, Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt or Bruce Dern in Nebraska) but Downsizing witnesses perennial scene-stealer Christoph Waltz turn in one-note ordinariness that feels oddly caricatured and out-of-character for a film under the direction of Payne.
Maybe if this was a first-time director or someone without Payne’s exemplary filmography, it would be easier to be less critical of its flaws. But it isn’t. And this is the guy who gave us The Descendants and Election too. As such Downsizing is an oddly amusing failure that devolves from something that’s intriguing and seemingly inspired into a film that could be a substitute for a sleeping pills.
Written by Rory Fish
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Written by: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Starring: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Udo Kier
Downsizing was released on DVD, Blu-ray™, Download & Keep and to Rent on Digital May 28, 2018