Movie review: 'Downsizing' gets cut down to size

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jan 28 2018 04:29 PM

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The setting of "Downsizing" is in an unspecified future time when scientists in Norway had developed a process called "downsizing" that safely shrinks people to a height of five inches. While the grander advantage of this remarkable technology is its environmental benefit, downsizing also lessens the financial burden of daily living.

Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey (Kristen Wiig) Safranek are a happy married couple living in Omaha, Nebraska. After meeting with a couple of friends who had been downsized, the Safraneks explores this option to escape their financial woes, visiting a nearby downsized community called Leisureland. Convinced, they decide to undergo the process themselves. However, things do not go according to plans. 

Ever since "Election" (1999), a film written and directed by Alexander Payne always stood out among the best of the year because of its intelligent incisive writing and heartfelt homespun direction. "About Schmidt" (2002), "Sideways" (2004) "The Descendants" (2011) and "Nebraska" (2013) have all been nominated or awarded as best screenplay, best director or best picture by various critics, including the Oscars.

The basic premise of "Downsizing" is very original and very interesting. How imaginative is that solution it proposes to the environmental crisis facing the world as well as the financial crisis many face all over the world. When humans are just five inches tall, everything he needs and uses also gets downsized accordingly. This greatly reduces all the waste each human being generates. It also reduces the money needed to sustain a desired way of life. 

The first half of the film while the Safraneks were deciding whether to undergo downsizing or not was really fascinating. Audiences will definitely be provoked to think about this fantastic scientific breakthrough, if they will go for it or not if given the chance. Unfortunately, in the second half, when the action shifts to life within the downsized community itself, the stories and the storytelling both began to derail. 

I found the characters whom Paul encountered in the second half of the film to be very odd and unlikable. Christoph Waltz was Dušan Mirković, a middle-aged man who loved to party loud in complete disregard of his neighbors. Hong Chau was Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese activist who was punished by her government by being shrunk against her will. While I appreciated an Asian character in there, why does she have to talk in an offensively stereotypical Asian accent? Rolf Lassgård was Dr. Jørgen Asbjørnsen, the inventor of the downsizing procedure, who acted suspiciously like a lunatic cult leader. 

The whole downsizing concept was set up so well by the first hour, but by the second hour, it all came crumbling down. It had so much potential to tell very humanistic stories about the advantages of being small, but it didn't. The second half instead told half-hearted stories where being small did not even matter. It was not explained why poverty and squalor still existed within a community of the small. 

There could have been so much to compare and contrast between the two co-existing worlds, but the filmmakers did not go there. It was really disappointing that Payne failed to deliver on his innovative story idea this time, unlike his previous films. 5/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."