Matt Damon stars in his most down-to-earth role as middle class American Paul Safranek, beer belly and all. He is joined by a strong cast of actors who add their touches of realism and humanity to a very surreal and uneven plot. Downsizing sells itself as a social satire of the average man in above average times, but the film wades into other themes of comedy, environmentalism, romance, coming-of-age and destiny. Downsizing is more akin to Homer’s Odyssey where Paul’s journey leads him to strange and unexpected situations, as a film it is mostly a comedy with very large ambitions.
Downsizing is the name given to the process of shrinking a person down to four inches to reduce man’s impact on the planet by taking up fewer resources. Paul is attracted to the idea of downsizing to save the planet, but he’s eventually sold on the idea when he finds out that he and his wife could comfortably retire on their savings turning their $100,000 into $12 million in the ‘small’ city of Leisure Land. The film draws on the parallels of middle class couples moving to less economically developed countries in search of providing a better life for themselves. There are scenes where Paul and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) say goodbye to their friends and family promising to visit at least once a year.
The film then takes a surprising turn when Paul wakes up after the downsizing procedure only to learn Audrey changed her mind at the last second. Now Paul finds himself single and strapped for cash, leading him from one adventure to the next as he parties with his neighbour Dusan (Christoph Waltz) and meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) a Vietnamese activist shrunk against her will, who now works as a cleaner. Hong Chau becomes the lightning rod to this film, grounding both the plot and Paul, her performance is touching and has attracted various nominations for Best Supporting Actress. In Leisure Land the wealth gap just gets larger, as Paul walks between the uber-rich parties to the slums outside the walled city.
Written by Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne (who also directs), they take a sci-fi concept of ‘downsizing’ and rather than commit to satirising the parallels with our world, they commit the story to Paul. It’s an ambitious approach to not tell the obvious story, but to go for a grander epic even if it doesn’t quite find its feet. If there had been an attempt to have a clearer arc based on Paul trying to find his place in the world from the start this would have been a lot easier to settle into rather than be blindsided by the constant changes in themes.
Overall Downsizing is funny, poignant and bubbling with messages and truths it wants to get across in its runtime. While some ideas pop in and out of the film, it centre’s itself on ordinary people taking extraordinary steps for a happier life; supported by a dedicated cast of experienced actors. While not the film you may expect it does have its merits as an Odyssey of complexities of the modern age.
Downsizing is released 24th January, 2018.