First things first – don’t go into this film expecting a comedy as many in my screening did. Maybe it’s down to the abundance of cast members like Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis that lull you into wanting a joke-filled romp. But, the marketing’s upbeat, one-liner filled trailer that suggests a quirky look at being small and the issues that might bring is not entirely accurate. While there are some definite laughs in this film, it’s a total different ball game and is much more about those life changing decisions that life throws you.
The concept is pretty simple; scientists have found a way to shrink humans (and objects) down to a fraction of their size and selling the dream of huge fortunes, lush lives and creating a fraction of the waste we do now on Earth. Sounds ideal, right? Matt Damon’s Paul Safranek is wowed by the thought of, in a sense, retiring early with his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig). 10 years working a very similar job, living in the same house as he grew up in and the world slowly turning, Paul and Audrey decide to give downsizing a go, their net worth being small is in the tens of millions, and they get to live in the house of their dreams. But what we learn very early on is miniaturisation doesn’t necessarily mean the life of your dreams. As this film unfolds, the inequality that exists in every community here also unfolds over time for the small, with rich apartment dwellers importation of goods to sell only making them richer, and the poorest of the poor living in their own shanty towns constructed from old porta cabins outside the main Leisureland complex. Those who shrink down that were poor still need to work the unappealing jobs, while the lap of luxury continues in high rises and mansions across the land.
Damon’s portrayal of an under-accomplished dreamer is a welcome relief to other performances and you end up falling in love with the guy who truly believes the grass is greener on the other side. When times of tragedy strike, or other impending dooms begin to set in, Paul really tries to find the answers. You feel the full weight of loss and discontent that plagues him in the second act, longing for the next place that he can call home and it’s only heightened by stellar performances by Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau, hardly touched upon in the marketing material for good reasons. Each new interaction and shift of focus Paul experiences, the audience gets shifted too in a way that’s different to most films; there’s usually an ex machina that puts everything back to normal for the end of the story, but each decision taken in Downsizing commits the characters to it. There is no going back.
That being said, the film is not without its flaws. The tone of the film sometimes clashes with itself and wrestles with how much it wants to be uplifting, and how much it wants to turn the mood dial to serious. There’s some excellent exposures on humans and their innate behaviours, but probably not played with enough. The third act curveballs into something that will probably leave most audiences dissatisfied, and could have easily be rectified by having a core theme or message – instead of a circle, it feels like three arcs that could continue on into other storey elements and never fully delivers on the ones it set up. Alexander Payne is unable to create a bad film, but this one fell slightly short than the potential it had.