fri 12/07/2024

Downsizing review - little things please little | reviews, news & interviews

Downsizing review - little things please little

Downsizing review - little things please little

Alexander Payne's finger-wagging satire should have cut a long story short

Size isn't everything: Kristen Wiig and Matt Damon in 'Downsizing'

Alexander Payne’s best-loved film is Sideways but that title may as well work for everything and anything in his oeuvre. In Election, About Schmidt, The Descendants and Nebraska, he puts America and Americans under the microscope from a variety of quizzically oblique angles. There’s another tilt shift in his latest satire.

Downsizing inspects national attitudes literally de haut en bas as Payne imagines a utopian community of people who after undering a process of elective diminution are, to be specific, 0.0634 percent of their previous body mass and volume.

The idea, developed in response to astonishing new strides in the lab from a bunch of Norwegian scientists, is to reduce humanity’s negative impact on a fatally damaged planet. You downsize, you diminish your carbon footprint. And the big draw tempting potential recruits is that their capital reserves don’t shrink commensurately. On barely any savings they can afford to sell up and live the life of Riley in a place where everyone is comparably happy about their life choice. It’s like being in The Truman Show without the 24/7 surveillance.

Christoph WaltzThe everyman who volunteers to take the plunge is Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), a lowly physiotherapist from Omaha. He’s spurred on by the memory of his mother’s debilitating old age, and the fact that he can’t afford the gleaming new home his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) has her eye on. So they say goodbye to the big people in their life and head off to the lab. When Paul wakes up he discovers the self-obsessed Audrey has had second thoughts. So like Gulliver he has to explore this new world on his own, and on a greatly shrunken budget after the divorce. Suddenly he’s a wage slave again, now working as a telephone salesman.

The film pivots violently to the left when Paul is lured into the hedonistic party of his Serbian neighbour Dusan (Christoph Waltz, pictured above), a sleazy freewheeling representative of the black economy. Through Dusan, Paul hooks up with a Vietnamese cleaner Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), an activist, former political prisoner and refugee who introduces him to life in paradise on the other side of the tracks, peopled very largely by ailing and/or impoverished charity-dependent Latinos.

Payne and his co-writer Jim Taylor have heaps of fun with the nerdy science comedy and enjoy taking potshots at America’s political tensions and mercenary values  the downsized emigrés are seen by some as a drain on the purse of full-sized tax payers. “Leisureland people too selfish,” says Ngoc Lan Tran, and that’s mainly the film’s message, stretched on a rack to 135 minutes.

Hong Chau in DownsizingHong Chau (pictured left) is a deserved recipient of a Golden Globe nomination for a lively performance which is more moving than the script has a right to ask. Despite the addition of midlife midriff, Damon can’t easily be dissociated from the trace memory of Jason Bourne’s six-pack. It’s easier to imagine Paul Giamatti, for whom the role was originally destined, embodying an all-American loser. Waltz with his familiar creepy rictus and doubtful morality may as well have sent his hologram to the set.

But where the film really topples off a cliff is in the Swiftian final act, which migrates to a Norwegian lake where the original downsized community prepares to take one last drastic step to safeguard the future of humanity. Size by now has long since been forgotten as a romantic denouement is awkwardly folded into quite a boring brochure for green politics. Oddly for a film about the ecological benefits of keeping things small, Downsizing suffers from a curious case of bloat.


Despite the addition of midlife midriff, Matt Damon can’t easily be dissociated from the trace memory of Jason Bourne’s six-pack


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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