Downsizing Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
January finally shows its ugly face! Payne’s sci-fi satire is lukewarm at best, a shame because the subject had so much potential!
Genre: Comedy / Drama / Sci-Fi
Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Udo Kier, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Rolf Lassgård, Ingjerd Egeberg, Maribeth Monroe, James Van Der Beek, Jayne Houdyshell & Neil Patrick Harris.
Run Time: 135 min.
US Release: 22 December 2017
UK Release: 24 January 2018
German Release: 18 January 2018
So, I went to watch this movie due to the aggressive marketing that was splattered all over Munich. I saw the first trailer at every other showing from September last year until January, as well as it being constantly played on YouTube. Then came the posters, which were plastered all around the city and I need to confess that all of those marketing schemes worked on me. The trailer looked funny, offering something new and unique, and the fact that Christoph Waltz participated in it practically sold me. Then came the day of the screening.
Occupational therapist Paul Safranek (Damon) desperately tries to give his wife Audrey (Wiig) the life she deserves. He is a good guy, helping his neighbourhood and co-workers with health issues, and always tries to keep a positive attitude. When he meets an old friend (Sudeikis) of his who underwent a new medical procedure known as “downsizing”, Paul realises that he can do something good for the world and afford a better lifestyle all at once.
This dramatic satire starts intriguing, if not a little slow. It explains how and for what reason “downsizing” is developed in the near future and how the people gradually come to accept it. As fun as it is to see that first half, I must admit that it could have been filmed and edited more compact. From the moment Paul gets downsized, though, this movie becomes a total bore! The narrative path it follows the first hour is completely abandoned, trying to be too many things at once and none of these at the same time. The core message of this sci-fi comedy is constantly shifting, making it a structural mess with no clear trail.
The whole premise had a lot of potential and could have flourished under a better script. For instance, even though I admire that Payne did not make the size issue the plot’s sole focus such as it is in many other films, that element is criminally underused. Matters such as climate and overpopulation are touched upon but never really explored, yet the dialogue beats you over the head with it during the first, and especially during the third act. All in all, the story is nothing more than strings of “what if’s” and “maybe’s”; a frustrating and disappointing way to entertain an audience!
There are a lot of big names attached to this project, amongst others Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis. Funny enough, the people they play are nothing more than mere side characters. I also find it very stereotypical the way Europeans and Asians are represented. While I know it is meant to be a humorous aspect of the plot, it rather comes off as annoying, shameless and a little bit insulting.
Matt Damon does a good job of portraying Paul Safranek, an Everyman the audience the viewers can connect with. While I have no issue with Damon’s performance, I do have a problem with the way his character was written. Safranek is a person who is amazed by each new thing happening in the world since his life is in contrast rather bland and uneventful. He tries to be a good human being by helping those that are in pain but also wants a life of luxury he can’t afford. It is this characterisation of the typical man that gets caught in an irregular situation that does not work for the film, as Damon’s role underperforms next to Waltz’s and Chau’s.
Hong Chau plays Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese refugee who shows Paul the ugly side of the small people’s village Leisureland. She is supposed to be the voice of reason of the main character, by opening his eyes and pushing him on a self-finding path. Narrative issued arise, as Chau’s acting overshadows that of Damon’s and disturbs the balance of the story. I can see why she was nominated for a Golden Globe, even though I found her to be irritating at first she managed to grow on me at the end. Still, I can understand why the persona of Lan Tran is not liked by a lot of viewers.
Christoph Waltz’s performance also knocks it out of the park and his character, although despicable and partially unlikeable, is the second most interesting character after Ngoc Lan Tran. Again, this causes a feeling of unevenness when watching this picture, as we are supposed to be interested in the main person.
The cinematography is the only redeeming aspect of this picture. The colour palette varies from different sterile whites to vibrant neon-colours and each of them represents a different stage of the film’s story. The few jokes about size difference are told through visual interpretation and the wide shots displaying the urban, or natural, sceneries are gorgeously vivid. This is a beautiful movie to look at, a shame that the rest of it is underwhelming. I have just one issue concerning the effects. Once normal and small sized people are shown together on screen, there is obvious computer trickery going on.
Verdict: In all honesty, I don’t see the appeal of Downsizing. Director and co-writer Alexander Payne managed to waste what could have been a remarkable comedic sci-fi drama. The plot begins interesting but turns absolutely dull during its second half, and drags from beginning to end. The story does not explore any of the aspects it sets-up, brushing mildly over them and then jumping to something else, same goes for the characters, which are barely developed at all. Paul Safranek, the main character, is a nice Everyman with a boring personality; he is in fact so boring that the side characters steal most of his show. The only part of the movie that I believe to be extraordinary is the cinematography and for that reason, I will grant it a 4.0 out of 10.
Let me save you money and time; this is not a film you want to go watch in theatres. If you already did see this, leave a comment below and let me know what you thought of Downsizing. Thank you very much for reading my review and if you liked it, don’t forget to give it a thumbs up and subscribe!