Downsizing (Norway / USA / 15A / 135 mins)
Directed by Alexander Payne. Starring Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Jason Sudeikis, Rolf Lassgard.
THE PLOT: Occupational therapist Paul (Matt Damon) is facing a grim future with his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig). The bank is chasing them and they could lose their home. Then a solution comes in the form of downsizing – literally. A revolutionary new technique developed by Norwegian scientist Dr Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard) allows humans to be shrunk to five inches tall. The point being that ‘going small’ could be the solution to overpopulation, as small people can live like kings and their money can go much further. Paul goes through with the downsizing procedure, but Audrey pulls out in a panic. Adrift in a new world of small people, Paul tries to connect with gregarious neighbour Dusan (Christoph Waltz) and bossy, peg-legged Vietnamese dissident Ngoc (Hong Chau)…
THE VERDICT: ‘Downsizing’ is indie director Alexander’s Payne’s first foray into larger films, with visual effects playing an important part. Given the nature of the story, the considerable resources of a studio are required. Hence, Paramount have footed the bill for this film – but the figures speak for themselves (the film was a big flop in the US). It’s an unhappy marriage for the usually more considered and careful director, with the core problem lying in the story.
Payne’s script with long-time collaborator Jim Taylor never really settles on what it wants to be. If anything, you get three films for the price of one here. It starts as a satire, shifts gears into a social commentary and then rounds off with a doomsday romance. These tonal shifts are awkwardly handled by Payne and Taylor, never gelling together coherently. The film never really recovers from the amusing and intriguing first act, as it then wanders off in other directions to give it all some sort of meaning. It’s a film that’s very much in search of a plot.
The general lethargy in the writing stretches to the characters too, most of whom are unlikeable oddballs like Dusan or dullards like Paul (not one of Damon’s most memorable performances). The one ray of light here is Ngoc, brilliantly played by Chau. She’s by far the best thing about this muddled film. Her character has suffered, having been miniaturised as punishment by the Vietnamese authorities. Even in her broken, almost-squeaky-voiced English, she knows the truth of herself and her situation. Any scene with her is a delight and she easily steals the film.
While done well and seamlessly, the visual effects are a distraction from the problems in the story. Payne has always been a sharp writer of character – ‘Sideways’ in particular. Perhaps it’s because he’s co-written an original story for a change rather than adapting one. While his imagination is commendable and the concept is amusing, something has definitely been lost – a voice. The voice of a director who is usually loud and clear. ‘Downsizing’ is a mini misfire that doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. A disappointment.
RATING: 2 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor