MOVIE REVIEW: Downsizing



Matt Damon has gone on record stating that he solely chooses his projects based on the director.  In doing so, the man has one of the most decorated resumes in Hollywood lined with smart choices and a collection of the best filmmakers in the industry.  That said, he is having a rough year on the silver screen (off-screeen is another story).  The Great Wall and Suburbicon may have carried the Zhang Yimou and Coen brothers pedigree, but both films were questionable and subpar at best and box office bombs for Damon continuing The Martian’s good graces.  

The presence of Alexander Payne, the smooth talker behind Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska, for Downsizing counts as a new feather in Damon’s hat.  Their pairing should have been a match made in heaven on paper to bring out the comedy side of Matt Damon we seem to only see in snippets anymore or late night comedy bits.  Crumble up that paper, dip it in gasoline, and light it on fire.  By golly, if Matt Damon wasn’t Matt Damon Downsizing would be bad enough to sink a lesser star’s career.  It is the worst film of his disastrous 2017 trio.  

Maybe Damon needs to start choosing his projects by scripts in addition to directors.  The high concept of Downsizing boasts quite the cheeky pitch.  In an alternate look at the present day and not-too-distant future, Norwegian scientists at the Evardsen Institute have successfully developed a procedure to safely shrink organic material to over 90% its normal size with no loss of life or function.  It can take a six-foot man and reduce them to a mere five inches in height.  

The very-detailed procedure is irreversible, but its moral and economic impact on the public sweeps the world.  Pushing an agenda of environmental prudence to combat dwindling resources and overcrowding, pioneering middle-class folks everywhere are “downsizing” their bodies and meager lifestyles to “relocate” to micro-communities of miniaturized decadence where thousands can stretch to equal millions to live in glorified dollhouses.  Leisureland is one such place and Paul Safranek, Damon’s beleaguered and envious Nebraska occupational therapist, takes the plunge.  The trouble is his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig, given very little to do for her talent) chickens out at the last minute, leaving Paul to this new world alone.

From that light science fiction premise, subtly impressive visual effects, and strong lead-up intrigue, Downsizing becomes as fickle as Paul’s knee-jerk decisions that follow.  Alone and seeking meaning, Paul drifts from one tangential pull towards belonging to another.  His loutish party boy neighbor Dusan (silly Oscar winner Christoph Waltz) introduces Paul to the freeing element of his position.  At the inconceivable same time, one of Dusan’s employed housekeepers turns out to be Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau of Inherent Vice), a reclusive Vietnamese rebel that shows Paul the squalor and class system that lies underneath the perceived decadence.

Nearly every presumptive message of Downsizing lacks the veritable strength of resonating substance.  A film about living beyond our means, being green, and questioning economic fluff of rights, taxes, costs, and consumerism should have been tangible for this American and international present-day.  Instead, this film is an obstinate exercise in privilege.  Any inspiration to care for this grand presentation trying to address needless suffering, unseen societal hierarchies, the plight of immigrant parallels, and cult mentalities is lost in painfully obvious metaphors regurgitated in lines and phrases “we were meant for something bigger,” “growing pains,” and “get small.”

How some of these scripted beats, narrative points, and plot decisions made it past the screenplay editor’s desk and into competent filmmaker’s hands for a holiday release and an Oscar campaign is an absolute wonder.  The performance conduit of those misshapen ideals is even worse.  The acting is atrocious and, in Chau’s case, borderline offensive.  Waltz is sidetracking distraction and Damon is flimsy from beginning to end.  One will fail to find a genuine performance of dedicated clarity.

The amount of wasted potential of Downsizing outweighs all of the floating plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage patch.  A smart premise is reduced to groan-inducing humor and languishing unintelligence.  At best, Payne’s film is absurdity wrapped and ruined by serendipitous bullsh-t and a fake sense of piety.  This writer hasn’t seen a worse film this year.

LESSON #1: THE FIRST THING YOU CHECK-- This one is for the men.  Fellas, what’s the first thing you check when you wake up in the morning or come to from any unconsciousness?  Without fail, the answer is the same for all of us.

LESSON #2: DON’T DO DRUGS, KIDS-- If you’re not feeling your best and you mean to keep up appearances, maybe so no to the mind-altering substances.  That’s not belonging or a release of self-discovery.  That’s making a fool out of yourself.

LESSON #3: THE KIND OF F--KS-- One character in Downsizing sets off the biggest laugh of the film with the line “what kind of f--k did you give me,” to question what type of sex occurred.  The character will go on to define eight f--ks for you in the most educational takeaway from the film that couldn’t be something like Cloud Atlas on its highest moment.  Sorry, but if you have to ask or you don’t know the answer the kind of f--k, then you’re not with the right partner.  Choose the option then of “zero f--ks given.”

LESSON #4: THE WORLD NEEDS ASSHOLES-- Speaking of lines, “where else does sh-t go out” is the best punchline of Downsizing and a low bar of blue ribbon of achievement from a talent like Payne who is better than this crap.  That’s the higher order thinking you have to look forward to.

LESSON #5: WHAT WOULD YOU DO?-- Lastly and most simply, the thought-provoking science and social commentary of Downsizing begs the ultimate question.  Would you irreversibly trade a modest lifestyle and full-size for a tiny life of absolute luxury?  Those that are open to such a possibility may grab a few more nuggets of reflection from this film versus those who cannot fathom the concept.