Downsizing is a larger-than-life letdown from frequently impressive director Alexander Payne. The cool concept is wasted on a depressing reflection of human life that robs the film from any real emotion aside from sadness. Matt Damon meanders, while Payne and his co-writer beat a dead horse across the film's bloated running time.
If you’ve watched any of the promotional videos or trailers for Alexander Payne‘s latest film Downsizing and thought that it looked like an interesting, yet possibly fun trip to the cinemas this Holiday season, then please do yourself a favor and read this review.
Downsizing is advertised as a quirky concept to attempt to reduce the human footprint on this planet, highlighting the advantages of “going small”, such as a wealth of money, easier transportation and a life full of now-large adventure.
The actual film is a depressing reflection on human life and the inevitability of extinction and death. I know what you’re thinking and let me stop you there — yes, Alexander Payne is a fantastic director that knows how to capture raw emotion and the human condition in a way unlike many others. I absolutely loved The Descendants and thought that he was going to wow me going into Downsizing, but that’s not what happened.
It’s not that Downsizing doesn’t make a few social comments on human nature and our inability to change for the greater good. Sure, we live in excess and are burning through this planet’s fossil fuels faster than you can order a cheeseburger to-go through McDonalds’ new online ordering app, but that’s besides the point.
Downsizing doesn’t try to reflect on those facts through the means of cinema in an attempt to grab our emotions and make us want to change or make us want to cry or laugh or do just about anything. Downsizing simply presents its cool little idea, shows us exactly how the process works and then just drops us in a world of sadness.
Matt Damon‘s character Paul goes through the shrinking process with his wife, later to find out that she chickened out and left him to be 5 inches tall all alone. That right there could have made for an interesting story. We could have watched Paul slip into depression, only to find himself and discover a new life that’s worth living for. Paul could have used his newfound life to do the things that he’s always wanted to do or to fall in love again. But Downsizing simply throws Paul back into the daily grind of working a boring 9-to-5 that he could care less about.
It then forces Paul to mingle with other, much less interesting characters, played with painful boredom by Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau. Downsizing then skips a beat or two and finds Paul randomly helping Chau’s character, originally out of sympathy, but then out of…love?
The film really doesn’t make much sense of their connection, yet Payne forces their relationship and coexistence onto us like he does Waltz’s forced accent and general lack of point. It’s almost to the point of being completely uncomfortable.
I never thought I’d complain about the presence of Christoph Waltz, but his inclusion in this film is a bold mystery that makes very little sense.
There’s no real comedy in Downsizing, which wasn’t a deal-breaker to me, but did give me a sense of being tricked or fooled. Why market your film as an easy-going look at turning humans into life-sized action figures, if you’re never going to actually show those teased gags?
I’m fine with nose-diving into drama, but why not make it feel a little more natural and less forced? Damon’s Paul is basically just a bored and confused version of Damon faced with no real decisions. One second he seems to care about helping the planet and doing a little good in this world and the next he cowards into crawling into a hole while abandoning all that he once cared about. It’s a jarring experience that drags on for what appears to be forever.
Downsizing is a long film and you feel every last second of it. It mostly feels like an exhausting and pointless journey through one man’s confused life. The gimmick doesn’t lend itself much help, because Payne rarely utilizes it. You forget early on that Damon’s character is a tiny little spec and I don’t feel like that was the point.
The story amounts to nothing but guilt and shame for the human species. It doesn’t present any good ideas for change, nor does it really reflect on why we do the things that we do. It mostly makes you scratch your head at the people that came up with the process and laugh as they turn themselves from bright scientists into crazed hippies.
None of this is going to make sense unless you’ve seen the film, but I can honestly tell you that it’s not worth it. It’s not funny, it’s not sad — it’s mostly just a boring exercise of script concepts that never really get past the planning phase.
Alexander Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor create a solid concept for a film, but forget to fill it with actual characters or moments. Downsizing is a shell of an idea that’s best left in the minds of more talented people to someday create into an actual film.