Director: Alexander Payne
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Alexander Payne hit on a great idea when he came up with the concept for Downsizing. In order to tackle over population, scientists discover a way to shrink people down to the size of Borrowers. Able to live in what are essentially doll houses, and consume 100th of the food (creating 100th of the waste) that regular sized people do, this seems like the perfect answer to the worlds biggest problem.
Slowly but surely people begin to shrink themselves down, mainly due to the fact that in the ‘small world’, everyone is rich. People live in luxury mansions, where their life savings of $12,000 translates to $3 million, so they never have to work again! This sounds pretty perfect to Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristin Wiig)- who decide to take the plunge.
When Paul wakes up from his irreversible downsizing, his is greeted by a phone call from his wife- she has backed out at the last moment and decided to leave him. She can’t be with a small person- she can’t leave her friends and family. So Paul is now small, and alone. And here is where the story really begins-
You would think.
Unfortunately this is where it all goes wrong. The film just sort of meanders off into nothing- there is no clear storyline, no real feeling like this is going anywhere, or that Paul is learning anything. All of his savings were lost in the divorce from Audrey, leaving him in exactly the same position as he was in his previous life. He works every day in a job he hates, he lives in an apartment and dates a woman he doesn’t have any interest in.
This is the unfortunate plight of a lot of writer/director films- Payne has come up with a great concept and has been so caught up in that that he has failed to write a great story. Whereas another director may have made some artistic cuts or changed the pace of the film to make it more interesting, Payne has delivered a self indulgent movie with no sense of urgency or hook.
I can see where the story is supposed to go- Paul meets his cooler than cool entrepreneur neighbour Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz) and his house cleaner, the Vietnamese freedom fighter who has been shrunk against her will- Ngoc (Hong Chau), and the three of them amble through various parties and situations in Leisure Land, the place they call home.
Paul learns that there are people in Leisure Land even worse off than himself- which is strange in a land where everyone was led to believe they would be millionaires living in the lap of luxury. He helps Ngoc nurse a dying woman- who dies after one scene and is never mentioned again (and was apparently only there to show the audience what a caring person Ngoc is), and bring food to the various people living in the tower block on the outskirts of Leisure Land.
Paul is essentially Ngoc’s servant- in order to repay her for breaking her prosthetic leg- he cleans houses in her place, takes on her responsibilities and even goes with her to Church.
From all angles, Paul seems to resent being treated like this by Ngoc, and begs Dusan to help him escape her clutches. Dusan in turn explains to Ngoc that he and Paul have business in Norway, at the original small colony. Ngoc bursts into tears- she has always wanted to go to Norway. So- off they all go together.
In Norway, they discover that the world is reaching the end of times, and the original colony has built a bunker way underground to hide in until it is safe to come out and repopulate the world. As the dilemma to stay or go presents itself to Paul, he struggles to work out what he wants.
A romance quickly and abruptly starts with Ngoc- which could have been sweet and believable if she hadn’t been such a nightmare previously, and Paul hadn’t resented her so much- or if the pairing had even slight chemistry. Ultimately this will help Paul make his decision, and life continues on.
I think Downsizing was a such a disappointment because there was so much wasted potential there. A brilliant concept with an amazing cast, but the script and the storyline were just too weak, causing the film to flounder and fall.
The romance could have been built up so much better. The pace could have been livened up tenfold- the film is waaaay too long at 2 hours and 15 minutes. And Christoph Waltz was barely a supporting character- something that continues to baffle me. Waltz is truly a fountain of talent, and he is so badly wasted in this movie it is practically insulting.
Payne struck gold with the idea for Downsizing, but his problem was that he left it there, and what resulted was just that. A great concept but a really substandard film, with no clear message.