When scientists invent a revolutionary procedure that shrinks organic matter, people at once reduce their impact on the environment but also are able to live in the lap of luxury, for nothing costs as much when you’re five inches tall. Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), possibly as a result of a midlife crisis, decides to undergo the procedure and start over. This starts him on a path toward self-discovery and helping mankind survive an impending extinction because of environmental degradation.
Isn’t Downsizing just grown-up Honey, I Shrunk the Kids?
Yes and no. If the technology that Wayne Szalinski invented was available to the public and became an incentive for reducing our carbon (and literal) footprints while becoming rich at the same time, this is likely where we’d be as a society. I must admit I was skeptical about this aspect, going in. I assumed we’d just get the misadventures of people being so tiny, but really that’s barely a part of it. In fact, Payne takes pains to minimize (see what I did there?) the slapstick distractions that a film like this would traditionally be prone to. There are absolutely some moments that focus on the size disparity, and the fact that Payne uses them sparingly makes them all the more effective.
Isn’t there a large cast of characters?
Yes, and everyone involved does a great job. The film makes good use of the supporting actors. Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau both steal the show from Damon’s white bread, milquetoast Paul Safranek. Waltz plays Dusan Mirkovic, Damon’s upstairs neighbor, a dealer in black market goods who parties all day and all night, reveling in his wealth and good fortune almost as much as in Paul’s series of unfortunate events. Time and again, he just looks at the camera after something Paul does, and the audience can’t help but bust out in laughter.
Hong Chau is the most effective member of the Downsizing cast. She plays Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese dissident whose government downsized her as a punishment, and she ends up cleaning houses and running into Paul. She opens up his world in a huge way, shedding light on real issues and problems, allowing him to step outside of himself and make an impact. Chau has earned a nomination for best supporting actress.
So this is just an enormous good time, right?
This is a very intelligent, funny film, which I really appreciate. However, the message here is deeply jumbled. On one hand, there’s a lot that the film wants to say about environmentalism, about activism, and about the effects that humans can have on those around them. Eventually, Paul finds himself associated with some of the most influential members of the scientific community who are bent on saving the world. This is where the film lost me. Paul’s story doesn’t belong at that scale.
This film works best when Paul is discovering that he can make a difference where he is. It works when he encounters people of different creeds and backgrounds, some who are indulgent and selfish and others who are selfless and generous. He learns a great deal, but much of that impact is lessened by the diversions of the last third of the film. In short, when the film broadens its scope, dragging Paul along with it, it loses focus. When it stays tightly trained on Paul and his individual journey, it works incredibly well.
Downsizing boasts an excellent, thought-provoking premise, but it just fails to deliver. It doesn’t have enough fun with the concept to leave the audience satisfied. Don’t buy into much of what this film is selling in terms of its mixed messages. However, if only for the smart idea and many gut-busting moments, it’s worth renting.
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Tyler is a teacher, librarian and the Co-host of The Geek Card Check Podcast. He has been a Film Critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018.