Downsizing - This Confused Movie Doesn't Manage to Rock
Dir: Alexander Payne
Starring Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig, Hong Chau, Rolf Lassgard, Udo Kier, Jason Sudeikis, James Van Der Beek, Laura Dern, Neil Patrick Harris
Alexander Payne’s new science fiction, social comedy, biting satire, eco-fable (delete as appropriate) is a frustrating movie – largely because it wants to be all of the above. And moves from one to the other as it progresses.
It starts well, with a great premise. In an attempt to help the world face up to the problem of over population, Scandi scientist Dr Jorgen Ashbjornsen (Lassgard) has found a way to shrink human beings. This enables them to voluntarily move into miniaturised wonder worlds (or LeisureLand as its known here) where their material wealth suddenly increases in relation to their size reduction. Thus everyone can now afford a dollhouse-like mansion and never has to work again. A perfect capitalist dream, even if back in the full sized world, their contributions, financially, to the rest of society will be missed, something that it seems someone has forgotten to think through, possibly even Payne and his co-writer (as ever) Jim Taylor. It’s a notion touched on briefly – but then quickly abandoned, as Payne and Taylor have a whole other bunch of notions to throw up and never fully develop. The sense of no going back once you’re shrunk is one of them. Then Damon discovers the other side of LeisureLand and realises that even though he’s now a 1 per-center – the other 99% have made the transition as well. Some not voluntarily – which touches on state-led violence and terrorism – but never really goes anywhere with it. Where it does go instead is to Norway and an eco-doomsday scenario, with a dash of suicide cult to go with it.
Phew – that’s a lot of ideas for one movie. But Payne seems happy to throw them all up there and see what sticks. Not that much does. (In a curious way, it reminded us of the 1980s Tom Hanks starrer Joe Vs. The Volcano, a very decent film, but one that also seemed happy just to roll with many narrative strands rather than try and find enough depth in fewer.)
As a biting satire – which it aspires to be – Downsizing lacks bite. As a comedy, it lacks gags (or at least funny ones.) As an eco-parable – it just seems random. Still, Payne manages to deliver a certain amount here that works. And it’s sometimes better to see a movie with too many ideas rather that see too many with too few. And Damon has become very adept at delivering the adroit everyman. And – above all else – Hong Chau is absolutely terrific as the one legged Vietnamese dissident on hand to change everyone’s lives. An inspired performance that ultimately outshines the film.
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