Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Hong Chau, Christoph Waltz
Length: 2hr 15m
In Downsizing, scientists discover how to shrink humans to five inches tall as a solution to overpopulation. The idea in itself is humorous, but the film fails to find its feet with its tone. It seems unable to decide whether it wants to be a comedic social satire or a more serious meditation on the human effect on the planet. The result of this is an overlong and incoherent film that attempts to lurch towards some kind of moral message that remains unclear. The idea in itself has potential for being comic or serious but a lack of one or the other holds it back.
A lack of coherence seems to permeate nearly every aspect. Early on in the film we find ourselves in a dystopian-style factory for systematically shrinking humans, reminiscent of something out of Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, whilst later on finding ourselves in the vast Norwegian country side. This would be fine if it the plot had a little more coherence, but it doesn’t, and so this extreme variation combined with tonal dissonance makes for a disorientating experience.
Alexander Payne casts Matt Damon in his usual “ordinary guy” in extraordinary circumstances role that he fills quite well. His character, Paul Safranek, is one of the few characters who gets properly fleshed out. The others, such as the Vietnamese activist Ngoc Lan Tran, played by Hong Chau, or Serbian playboy Dušan Mirković, played by Christopher Waltz, seem to be nothing more than comic stereotypes. This strange mix of characters adds to the film’s sense of uncertainty as to whether it wants to be taken seriously or not.
Towards the end Payne attempts to conclude on a kind of heart-warming moral message about being compassionate to those around you, but this is unconvincing from the lack of clarity and focus of the film.
The concept itself is not flawed, and it is commendable to take on as heavy an issue as climate change. It is at its best during the moments that it comically satirises capitalist culture in the way the shrunken cities are advertised. There is also some nice cinematography during the parts set in rural Norway, and yet this is an example of the problem. Separately these aspects have their place, but in Downsizing they are sadly not well put together.