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12/27/17

DOWNSIZING - REVIEW


From director Alexander Payne comes Downsizing, a science-fiction comedy starring Matt Damon as a man who undergoes a shrinking procedure so he can live in a small-scale utopia where he would be wealthy and lead a worry-free life.

The trailers for Downsizing promised a social satire full of the dry wit we've come to expect from Payne's films. This was sure to be a mostly upbeat and clever character study hinting at deeper themes through a "big" sci-fi concept with some inventive visuals and fun deadpan performances peppered throughout. After a brief and well-executed introduction showing the birth of the revolutionary "downsizing technology", we meet Paul Safranek (Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) who, many years later, start to consider moving to Leisureland, a seemingly perfect mini-world where your money is worth five times more. The only catch: you will need to shrink yourself to live in that world and the procedure is irreversible. The first half hour to 45 minutes of the film, while slow, is very good at showing you exactly how one would, not only become charmed by the idea of downsizing, but actually go through that whole process. Everything leading up to Paul's Leisureland move is meticulously set up and feels surprisingly convincing thanks to Payne's ability to ground the silliest situations in his character's relatable humanity.

Unfortunately, it all pretty much goes downhill from there. You are finally thrown into this fascinating world and instead of learning more about it, maybe discovering the truth behind how it really works with the same kind of care that was taken to bring you into it, the plot stagnates then appears to make things up as it goes along. This could have been a bold move leading to a worthwhile conclusion but what we get, frankly, is a drag. Much like how Paul doesn't really know where he belongs and what he should be doing, the film lands its characters in various situations hoping that something comes out of it and nothing does until the very end but, by then, it'll be too little too late. This is a long film but it feels twice as long due to numerous scenes that go nowhere and pacing problems throughout. By the time Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese activist-turned-cleaner with a thick accent, enters the picture and drags Paul through the plot of an entirely different type of movie, you'll start wondering what happened to the one you signed up for.

It's not that Hong Chau gives a poor performance as the strong-willed one-legged Lan Tran, quite the opposite, it's just a shame that she is saddled with a bit of a loud stereotype when she could have done a lot more in a more restrained role. Even so, Lan Tran is so much more interesting than Paul that one wishes the film had been about her, not Matt Damon's dull schmuck. Paul's character arc never quite hits the mark since we never really know who he is or why we should care about him. He's just a bit of a silly guy who is good at helping people despite himself, that's about it. Christoph Waltz plays Paul's cheeky neighbour Dusan Merkovic and he's easily the best thing about the movie, even if his character is nearly forgotten by the end. There's an inconsistency to how this whole shrinking thing works that can be distracting and the end-of-the-world scenario the film settles into at the last minute feels forced and preposterous even next to the whole downsizing idea. The film's message is also a bit all over the place and it's quite obvious that you could have made the same exact point without the whole shrinking plot which, by the third act, will feel pretty irrelevant.

Alexander Payne is one of the best directors working today and his track record has been stellar... until now. Downsizing lures you in with its clever premise, fun trailers and appealing cast only to drop you into a ridiculous yet surprisingly boring story with delusions of grandeur.

Disappointing.

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