Directed by Alexander Payne
When you know beforehand that a proficient director like Alexander Payne (“Election”, “Sideways”, “Nebraska”) is commanding a terrific cast spearheaded by Matt Damon and Christopher Waltz, it's more than natural to expect an interesting and amusing outcome. However, for our discontentment and despite the strong ecological consciousness, “Downsizing”, his first film in four years, fails to engage, becoming sloppier as the story proceeds.
Co-written by Payne and his longtime collaborator Jim Taylor, the story centers on Paul Safranek (Damon), a respectable occupational practitioner from Omaha, who decides to enroll with his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), in an innovative human shrinking program that would end with their financial problems. Despite the temporary side effects and infinitesimal margin of failure associated with it, this irreversible process of cellular reduction is widely considered as a safe procedure. Besides, it is generally regarded as a guarantee of welfare and happiness.
Taking the example of his friend Dave Johnson (Jason Sudeikis), who did the procedure with his family and became extremely satisfied with the results, Paul persuades Audrey to embark on the adventure but is let down in the last minute with her refusal to go on. Hurt, frustrated, inconsolable, and downsized, he starts working in a call center while adapting to the experimental community set for his ‘kind’. After his divorce case is closed, Paul is relocated to a new apartment, where he befriends his upper neighbor Dusan Mirkovic (Waltz), a business-oriented Serbian partygoer who has good plans for him. Before embarking on a life-changing trip to Norway, where he meets with the father of ‘downsizing’, Dr. Asbjornsen (Rolf Lassgard), Paul emotionally connects with Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a bossy Vietnamese dissident who cleans Dusan’s house after his wild parties. She was the sole survivor in a human smuggling attempt to the US, which cost her one leg. Benevolent, Paul offers himself to help with her deficient prosthetic leg, but ends up as a pro bono ‘doctor’ that tries to heal the sick people in her impoverished and secluded neighborhood. Highly submissive, he even joins her in the cleaning team, a situation that feels more pathetic than funny.
Unexpectedly, he reaches a point where he will have to choose between contributing to the preservation of the human species, threatened by the Arctic methane emissions, or embrace love, once and for all.
Oscillating considerably in tone and mood, “Downsizing” abruptly jumps from a poignant drama to a bleached pseudo-thriller, and then to a bland comedy about how many types of fuck there are in America, just to end up in a blurred, chemistry-free romance, which surpasses any human survival strategy.
Having envisioned a comedy packed with dramatic force, Payne stumbles heavily in a faulty script, adding a few clichés and unimaginative formulas that reduce “Downsizing” into a microscopic size. To aggravate the case, Lan Tran’s behavior and talk, which apparently should work as the funniest factor in the film, become more asinine than amusing, while, in turn, Waltz was never given the spotlight he deserved.
Hence, this one belongs to that Sunday-matinée category whose constituents should only be picked if there’s nothing else to see and you feel really desperate for a movie.