I’ve wanted to see this film since I first saw the trailer. Even though I was super freaked out by bald Matt Damon. I’ve lusted after that man since I first saw Ocean’s 11 but, I have to say, he can’t carry off the no hair look and no eyebrows look. It’s really off-putting. Like the opening of Captain America when Chris Evans is CGI’d to be tiny. It’s creepy. I hate it. He looks like a puppet that’s come to life or something. It’s like Marvel didn’t let him eat for months before filming. Bleurgh. It’s not right to take something so pretty and purposefully make it look bad. Especially when, in Downsizing, it feels super unnecessary. And Matt Damon’s head looks so huge and round without hair. What’s going on with that? Still, I managed to get over my anger at hairless Matt Damon and finally saw Alexander Payne’s new film.
Downsizing is the latest film from director Alexander Payne. Payne has most recently been used to creating realistic portraits of American life. This film takes a step away from realism into a more science-fiction style narrative. Although still with enough biting social satire to ensure we know it’s from the same man who brought us the 1999 film Election, god I love that film. Instead of satirising high school life and real world politics, Payne is taking on subjects like environmentalism and socialism. But in a really tiny way thanks to the scientists who make is possible for humanity to shrink down to a tiny size and live out their days in relative comfort. And supposedly help the planet.
We see this breakthrough in science through the eyes of regular schmuck Paul Safranek (Matt Damon). A normal guy who had big dreams of being a surgeon but has ended up as an occupational therapist living in his childhood home and riddled with debt. His wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), dreams of moving to a nicer house but, financially, is just isn’t an option. So, after an old high school friend of Paul’s praises the downsizing project, the pair decide to pack up their life, shrink down and move to Leisureland, a colony of downsized people. Unfortunately, not everything goes to plan and Paul finds that life with the little people won’t be the relaxing time he was hoping for.
Downsizing presents us with a society of people who understand that global warming is a real issue so find a solution that can potentially help the planet whilst still allowing everyone to continue living their lives of excess. It’s the perfect solution: you need less money to survive, amass less waste, and don’t have to feel guilty about indulging your every desire. You can have financial and environmental freedom without feeling bad about it. Who wouldn’t want that dream life?
And, initially, that dream life of garden parties, constant holidays, no jobs, and spa treatments seems perfect. Until Paul discovers the secret that Leisureland hides from the wealthy. On the outskirts of town, outside the main facility, there are slum towns full of people too poor to be able to enjoy the luxury on offer. These people scrimp to afford food so must work menial jobs and beg for scraps. Unable to get access to healthcare they are forced to survive thanks to the out-of-date prescriptions of the rich. Basically, it’s just like home but smaller. This is when the film starts to go from being a bit Honey I Shrunk The Kids to more of a ‘white man saves the underprivileged’ kind of narrative.
I really enjoyed director Alexander Payne’s last film Nebraska but in the 5 years since that was released somethings gone wrong. The first half of Downsizing is a funny and interesting look at our society. The project is billed as a solution to global warming but is, in reality, just a way for people to live in luxury without needing to win the lottery. It says a lot about our wasteful but selfish society. Then is tries to go all humanist on us. I’m not trying to suggest that is a bad thing in itself but it doesn’t work here. When Paul meets a Vietnamese activist (Hong Chau), he finds himself taking the role of white saviour and things become a little unstuck. Chau, despite her dodgy and potentially stereotypical broken English, is the film’s one shining star but even she cannot do enough to bring the two halves together.
Downsizing is just a film that is trying to ask too many questions that it can’t answer. It has no real idea about the tone it wants to strike and gets too bogged down with its message to have any kind of cohesion. It started off so strong and I was sure it would be a winner. But the longer the narrative dragged on the less interested I became. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen by far but, coming from someone as trusted as Payne, it is something of a let down. Turns out Downsizing was just a bit too big of a concept to come together.