Film Review: Downsizing (2018)

2018 in Cinema:

Downsizing, 2018

Directed by: Alexander Payne

Starring: Matt Damon, Christopher Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig


I remember seeing a small trailer for this film about six months back and was excited about its premise and how it could be used effectively; unfortunately the finished article disappointed me greatly from the initial wave of excitement. Downsizing stars Matt Damon (Suburbicon) as Paul Safranek, a married occupational therapist who, along with his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig, Despicable Me 3), decides to undertake the process of downsizing, shrinking a person down to five inches, massively multiplying their finances in the process and helping the environment. However, only Paul actually goes through with the process (a massive spoiler ruined in the trailers).

There were some moments in this film where it seemed like they had a good thing going, but those moments were few and far between, and all surrounded by what was ultimately quite a boring and slow romantic comedy. The act of downsizing causes waves of excitement and anger amongst the populous, as you’d expect with something so major, yet this wasn’t explored nearly enough. An early television interview and a drunken bar man brought up negatives about the process: paying less tax, contributing less to the society, whether or not they should have the vote as a result, yet it was largely forgotten about, much like the large world, after Paul becomes downsized. A few years back there was a series of Torchwood (the spin-off to Doctor Who) where a silent alien invasion prevented people from dying. In a ten-episode series (admittedly it should have been no more than five) they spent at least three episodes going through the consequences of nobody being able to die. They explored food shortages and over-population and really got into details that I never even considered when the series started. Downsizing really needed to have more of this. More of how it’ll affect America by helping save the world.

One thing going in I was excited to see was how it worked visually, having small and large people interacting, and, while they never shown these scenes too much, it worked and looked impressive. They managed to get the lack of sound spoken by the downsized quite well, and even in the small world seeing things such as cookies and roses massive by comparison looked hilarious. However, its concept and visuals are about the only areas I can compliment.

There is a lot of time spent in the build-up to their process, a lot of time spent in the process and then a lot of time spent in the downsized world, and none of them deserve the amount of time they were given. At the start we are introduced to Paul’s ill mother before we jump ten years in the future and she’s never mentioned again, we meet friends who have downsized who we only meet very briefly in the downsized world, the whole drunken bar-man who argued against the downsizing process, the lengthy downsizing meeting about their fortune and how they plan on getting over $12m USD after the process to live on yet we soon see Paul as a call centre agent with no explanation as to why he’s working. There is a lot of filler and irrelevant information and seemingly pointless scenes that just slow the film right down. And during these long scenes the film relies on the comedy to drive it forward. Comedy about penises and sexual harassment (there’s a weird scene where she’s shaving Paul, while he’s unconscious, and waxes up an object to prep his backside); none of it is funny, none of it is clever. And when an hour’s portion of the film is dedicated to Paul adjusting to the downsized world and the comedy is supposed to be driving it forward, then it just becomes a rather boring film.

Also, it doesn’t answer a lot of questions to us, the audience, despite having clearly obviously confusing moments. Firstly, Audrey refuses to get the downsizing process done because she saw herself with no hair and chickened out, despite Paul was made to be unconscious during his shaving (they also don’t explain why hair needs to be removed (head, face, body, all hair) despite them shrinking rats and animals down without shaving them). They also don’t explain why Paul gets a job, as mentioned earlier, they don’t explain why the process is irreversible, they don’t explain why there is a colony of poor Mexicans living in the downsized world despite the earlier meeting stating the process costs thousands of dollars to be done: so much is just told to us without any further information given. It shows a lack of clear thought and care for their own film, and if the film doesn’t care about its own concept then it screams loudly that we shouldn’t, either.

And I won’t spoil the major climactic event, what I will say is it comes completely out of nowhere and is rushed through without much development. A small mention of something is heard earlier in the film then they get told the news later on and just accept it, without seeking advice or proof, and there are a lot of errors in logic and thoughts during the final act.

It doesn’t serve well for a science fiction film, it doesn’t serve well as a comedy film, it doesn’t serve well as a romantic film, it doesn’t serve well as an adventure film. It just doesn’t serve well as a film. There was very little (pun intended) to enjoy about Downsizing, which is disappointing because its concept is intriguing.

Plot: *     Acting: * *           Writing: * *         Presentation: * * *

Overall Rating: * *

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