Starring Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Udo Kier, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Rolf Lassgard, Maribeth Monroe, Ingjerd Egeberg, Neal Patrick Harris, Laura Dern. Directed by Alexander Payne. (2017/135 min).
Here's another strong reason why people should probably pay more attention to who's creatively responsible for a film rather than its pandering trailer. Writer/director Alexander Payne isn't known for gimmicky, high-concept movies and he sure as hell didn't start with Downsizing.
Yet ads and trailers offered it up as a big, fun, FX-driven sci-fi comedy with Matt Damon experiencing the joy of tapping a giant vodka bottle (a scene which didn't actually show up in the final cut). It wasn't really fair to audiences or Payne, who wrote and directed a more somber and thought-provoking film than that.
As a solution to overpopulation, climate change and Earth's depleting resources, a brilliant Norwegian scientist develops a technology which reduces people to five inches. At that size, not only do they consume less of everything, even those with relatively few assets can suddenly afford lives of luxury. Years later, Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), an occupational therapist who once had bigger dreams, sees this as a chance to do something important. His wife, however, backs out at the last second. Since the procedure is irreversible, Paul's stuck living on his own in Leisureland (the community where everyone who's been "downsized" live).
|"Yeah, I was expecting Steve Martin to be here, too."|
For a time, Paul is lonely and bored, working as a telemarketer and befriending Dusan (Christoph Waltz), an aging Serbian playboy who hosts wild parties every night. Then he meets one of Dusan's housekeepers, Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese political prisoner who was shrunk against her will and shipped to America. Through her, he discovers Leisureland isn't quite the utopia he was led to believe and that downsizing has done little to change the social injustices plaguing the rest of the world. The story takes an even darker turn after Paul accompanies Dusan to Norway to the village where the very first downsizers have been living - in relative isolation - for decades.
While it's not exactly Honey, I Shrunk Matt Damon, Downsizing is sometimes very funny for reasons we're led to expect. But Payne also has something important to say about humankind's inherent short-sightedness, apathy and egocentrism. Infusing some biting satire, he doesn't paint an optimistic picture of the world or its future. In fact, there are moments when the story is kind-of depressing, especially when Leisureland is depicted as a little more than microcosm of the world its inhabitants supposedly wanted to save.
|"Sorry...I ate all the crackers."|
The film is a bit overlong. The first hour, in particular, is pretty meandering - almost aimless - until the real story kicks in, which is full of surprises and as engaging as it is intelligent. Aside from a boatload of gratuitous cameos (mainly during the first act), the characters are interesting, as are most of the performances. Damon is...well, Matt Damon, but Waltz & Udo Kier are wonderful in roles which seem tailor-made for them. The best performance, though, belongs to Chau, whose character becomes emotional crux of the film.
Downsizing is smart, enjoyable and poignant, not at-all like the film we were sold. That's arguably the biggest reason it undeservedly came-and-went in theaters within a few weeks. But perhaps it'll enjoy a second life on home video, being a very rewarding experience once the viewer knows what to expect.
PROMOTIONAL FEATURETTES: "Working with Alexander"; "The Cast"; "A Visual Journey"; "A Matter of Perspective"; "That Smile"; "A Global Concern"
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