If you’ve seen the trailer for Alexander Payne’s Downsizing then you’re probably expecting a very different film from what it actually is. Sure, Matt Damon is zapped down to being five inches tall, but that’s not really the film’s main thrust. It’s one of the thrusts, but in reality Downsizing is actually a film of three very distinct acts.
The first (and best) is a Truman Show-style comedy of how Damon’s mundane life leads him to become a fraction of his former self (simple economics) and how he adjusts to life in a new, insular new world. The second is an investigation into social injustice and the final is a spiritual journey/end-of-the-world type thing. None of these really gel together but they are all good in their own little way.
Downsizing is a serious departure for Alexander Payne, whose films are always firmly set in the real-world. Sure, they might be skewed, but there’s an inherent reality that runs through them which offers a tangibility. This time around he dives head-first into science fiction and this gives Payne a whole new direction – even if he doesn’t totally diverge from his usual beige and brown colour palette.
Matt Damon does solid work as the everyman dealing with the new direction his life takes him, but he’s a little overshadowed by the supporting players as his role doesn’t really give him a lot to work with. Christoph Waltz has fun as Damon’s Serbian smuggler neighbour and Hong Chau gets to play with a lot of different shades of character (even if she is a little annoying). It’s also nice to see Udo Kier onscreen Waltz’s partner in crime along with a few other familiar faces.
In a sense, you could call Downsizing a noble failure. The right elements are there for an interesting satire, but these disparate parts don’t quite work as a whole. It’s as if Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor had the idea for a trilogy of films or a TV series and just shrunk it down into feature form.
It doesn’t hit the mark like Sideways, About Schmidt or The Descendants but that’s not to say that Downsizing isn’t worth viewing. It’s a mixed bad, but it has enough to offer – even if it is something small.
Downsizing comes with six mini-docs, which each clock-in around the 10 minute mark. They’re detailed and offer a very good insight into the filmmaking process but it’s a shame there isn’t a play all option.