By Michael Tessler
Several months ago I stumbled upon the trailer for “Downsizing” and its concept really struck me as something special. In an era of reboots and sequels it was so refreshing to hear an idea I’d never heard before. Judging from the trailer, the film appeared to be a fun-sized science fiction comedy perfect for families during the holiday season. What was delivered, however, was something entirely different for better or worse, I’m still not quite sure, and it’s definitely not kid friendly.
Here’s what you need to know: With the global population swelling, scientists in Norway discover a formula that shrinks people to miniature size. In the years that follow, communities begin popping up around the world that allow “downsized” individuals to live like kings in idealistic domed neighborhoods. Since everything is smaller, it is significantly cheaper … allowing people who’d otherwise be poor or in the middle class to enjoy life in massive mansions with the most expensive foods and goods at their pint-sized disposal.
Directed by Alexander Payne, the story follows occupational therapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), your generic middle-class man who is forced to live in his childhood home after his mother gets sick. He and his wife, played by SNL alumni Kristen Wiig, attend a high school reunion where they discover that two of their old friends have downsized. After having them over for dinner, they make a trip to visit one of these pint-sized communities. Ultimately the couple decides to move forward with being downsized, selling their home, possessions, and planning to enjoy life as millionaires in the idealistic Leisureland Estates.
Separated by gender, Damon’s character undergoes the procedure first. It hilariously involves the shaving of his eyebrows and facial hair, among other things. He awakes as a small person, about 6 inches tall, and is shocked to discover that his wife has backed out at the very last minute, leaving him alone in a small, small world.
From there the story flashes forward and takes a few unexpected turns as we are introduced to eccentric millionaire Dusan Mirkovic, played by the enormously talented and multifaceted Christoph Waltz (“Inglorious Bastards,” “Django Unchained”) and, among the most unanticipated turns, the introduction of Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese civil rights activist who gets downsized by her government as punishment for staging a series of protests. In the process she loses her leg and lives in the slums outside Leisureland working as a maid. Portrayed by the lovable Hong Chau, this character adds an exciting dimension to the story.
The cast also includes brief but memorable appearances by the likes of Margo Martindale, Jason Sudeikis, Udo Kier, Laura Dern, Niecy Nash, Kerri Kenney and Neil Patrick Harris.
Visually, this film is stunning, especially in its ability to make you thoroughly believe in these downsized communities. Where this film flops is its inability to figure out what it wants to be and accomplish. “Downsizing” has the perfect cast to get the job done, but the screenplay doesn’t quite deliver. It has some very funny moments though, to the point where belly aching laughter was heard throughout the theater on various occasions. It also has some serious undertones about purpose and conserving the world we live in. By the end of the film, however, I didn’t quite feel the story was neatly tied up … and the writer’s vision fell a little flat.
In an effort to achieve too much, “Downsizing” misses the mark. Forgetting its own lesson in the process, that bigger isn’t always better. Though certainly entertaining, I’d give “Downsizing” a generous 6/10.
Rated R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use, “Downsizing” is now playing in local theaters.