TL;DR
  • Conceptually engaging, but doesn’t elaborate much
  • Interesting to see what our world would be like if we integrated ‘Downsizing’ into our society
  • Plot is thin and the slow pace makes it occasionally dull
  • Pleasant, but obvious messages
  • Likable cast and characters – Hong Chau in particular
  • An easy watch, but forgettable

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The idea behind Downsizing is an interesting one, a concept that can easily engage the imaginations of audiences worldwide. The trailer got popular for a while on the internet, with people really excited by an original idea that got them thinking – plus there was a decent cast. But director Alexander Payne’s latest film doesn’t quite live up to its thought-provoking premise, instead allowing the plot to go stale, the pace to drag on and not quite shaping up to size.

After the discovery that mankind can shrink itself down to about five inches tall (‘downsizing’), people slowly start to make the change for a variety of reasons; perhaps because it helps the environment or because their assets and money will be worth more. Encouraged by old school friend, Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) persuades his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) to make the change, giving up their lives and shrinking themselves down. However, when his wife backs out at the last minute, Paul is left alone in a small world that seems dauntingly big. Soon though he picks himself up and, after meeting suave European Dusan (Christoph Waltz) and Vietnamese runaway Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), he starts to see a new perspective on and realises which direction he wants his life to take.

The basic concept of the film is what people come to see the movie for, despite the established talents of the cast and director. And whilst conceptually the film is strong, the story is not. Instead Downsizing moves from one aspect of the concept to another with a few weak narrative strings. This is largely because the plot is so thin once Paul decides to ‘go small’ that not much really happens, resulting in slowing the paceand sometimes erring towards the boring side. Although it takes too long for the ‘downsizing’ to actually happen, the first half is certainly the more interesting part; one where we actually get to see what would happen to our world if something like this was in fact discovered and integrated into society. Sadly we don’t see enough of this though, which is a real shame as that was the real hook that brings an audience to the film. There are some pleasant messages to the film though; we should be saving the environment being one, we should pause and appreciate what we have now being another, but these have the habit of being a bit on the nose and obvious from time to time.

More than the concept, however, it’s the characters within the concept that drive a film like this. Matt Damon obviously is a very capable and likable lead, though there’s nothing overly special about his character to make him interesting or memorable, but Damon carries the film very well. The use of Kristen Wiig’s character is too short-lived and they got rid of her as soon as it was convenient to the plot, proving to be a disappointment as Wiig certainly has the ability to lend a lot of comedy to a film, sometimes with just an expression. The real scene-stealers though are Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau. It seems strange for Waltz to be cast as a Serbian, rather than an Austrian or German, especially since it makes no difference since he plays a stereotypical European partyboy (as is too often a stereotype of Europeans in American films). Still, he’s the life and soul of the scenes he’s in (a trait he’s proved ever since Landa in Inglourious Basterds) and makes the most of a character that is largely superfluous. The real surprise in the cast though is Hong Chau’s Lan Tran. Hilariously bossy but somehow endearing from the word ‘go’, Chau stamps her personality on the film effortlessly and almost saves the latter half.

Downsizing is a small film that should have dreamed to be bigger than it is and be daring enough to really embrace its refreshingly original concept. Instead it goes from a conceptually captivating film to a fairly generic drama/quasi-comedy whose plot plods along, quickly forgetting the central premise that excited the audience. Certainly a pleasant watch, but a missed opportunity and far from Payne’s excellent 2011 film, The Descendants.

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