The general concept of Downsizing, that of shrinking people down as a solution to over-population, is instantly intriguing. The final product however, whilst flirting with moments of greatness, never quite manages to fully utilise the excellent world it builds. Director Alexander Payne is no stranger to movies exploring how people facing momentous life events, having directed the likes of Sideways (2004) and The Descendants (2011). With Downsizing, he tries to push this motif to new levels but lacks the focus to truly pull it off.
Downsizing boasts a great cast including Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau. While Matt Damon does a good job in the lead role, as is typical for him, the real standouts are Christoph Waltz as Damon’s neighbor Dusan and Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese activist and refugee.
Waltz dominates his scenes by imbuing his character with a charming eccentricity while somehow also managing to make his arrogant character appear charming. Chau, on the other hand, is a lot more restrained in her approach, bringing a warm tenderness to her character.
The film’s weakness comes in its narrative. It starts off strong as it sets up the world in which its characters inhabit and lays down the framework for its concept. It is once Damon’s character downsizes and begins to adapt to his new life that the film starts to lose focus and the whole downsizing gimmick begins to take a back seat.
Payne instead tries to make various social commentaries, but never chooses a specific narrative or theme on which to focus. This leaves us with a series of underdeveloped ideas that are brought up in passing but never actually explored. It’s a shame as Downsizing builds the framework to effectively explore these social issues in an engaging and new perspective but doesn’t know what it wants to say.
There is still a lot to enjoy here, however, as Downsizing is not a bad film; it simply falls short of being a great one. The film does manage to still be entertaining throughout its runtime thanks to a good balance between humour and more serious moments. It is the feeling of wasted potential that leaves you with a sense of disappointment once the credits roll. Downsizing could have been something truly exceptional had Payne fully committed to a specific idea.
Image: Paramount Pictures