Downsizing (2017)

It’s really disappointing when a bad movie has (1) a killer premise, (2) a strong director, and (3) a great cast, but such is the case with Downsizing. It has been directed and co-written by Alexander Payne, whose previous directorial outings are very solid. It stars Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig, and Hong Chau, among others, which is a pretty strong cast. And it has a high-concept idea at its core. The result of all of these elements is a mediocre-at-best film that feels more like a waste of potential than anything else.

That core idea is that humans have invented a way to shrink themselves down to approximately five inches tall, and have now built miniature cities with doll house-proportioned amenities. The scientists hope that everyone will undergo the procedure and the resulting impact on the environment will be enough to save the planet. It’s become more of a niche thing, though, something that bored suburbanites do in order to spice things up in their lives—or to live like kings, as even a modest amount of savings gets stretched significantly when you’re that small and use items that are also far smaller.

Our lead is Matt Damon as someone whose name has already escaped my mind. He and his wife (Kristen Wiig) decide to go through the process in order to live a better life, but she backs out at the last minute, leaving him permanently small. They divorce, he doesn’t have anywhere close to as much money as he thought he would, and he basically finds himself back in the same spot he was as a normal-sized person.

This would probably be a good enough premise to use for a movie’s worth of social satire. The movie barely wants to wants to use it. It instead jumps to a couple of other different areas. Damon’s character befriends a Vietnamese political activist (Chau) who was downsized against her will and now works both as a house-cleaner and as a Good Samaritan among the poor, immigrant population residing in the small town—the existence of which shocks Damon’s character. This, too, could work for social satire, but soon after that we jump to a potentially world-ending revelation and the consequences of that, an abbreviated love story, some sightseeing, and it’s all just too much that does too little.

Downsizing is, quite simply, a mess of ideas that never form a cohesive whole.

Downsizing, in effect, feels overstuffed and undercooked. It has a lot going on—and it’s 135 minutes long, which it starts to feel near the end—but none of it does more than scrape the surface of its potential. So you’ve got all these ideas that the film doesn’t know what to do with, leaving them all underdeveloped and feeling like a waste. Meanwhile, the characters have taken a back seat, they’re all pretty much stereotypes, and you wonder both where the film should have gone and what the point of it all is.

Its premise buys it a decent amount of goodwill—at first, that is. But you get into the flow of the movie pretty early on, when it takes forever just to explain what being downsized means. The trailer told us all we need to know in less than three minutes; why is the movie taking ten minutes on the same thing? It’s a lot of hot air to make it seem deeper than it is, I guess. But, ultimately, there’s not a lot to the movie.

Matt Damon plays an everyman here, and that’s fine, but there has to be something more to him. Even the small arc he goes through in this movie does nothing to make him interesting, and Damon doesn’t get to do much acting beyond looking sheepish and acting submissive toward everyone. The best acting in the film comes from Hong Chau, who speaks in broken English and with a strong Vietnamese accent, but her character only shows up halfway through and can’t even come close to saving it. Waltz, Wiig, and others fade into the background.

Downsizing is, quite simply, a mess of ideas that never form a cohesive whole. It wants to be about so much that it winds up being about nothing much at all. Its characters aren’t interesting enough to make up for that, and its story plods from beat to beat. Its premise is solid, and there’s a good movie here somewhere, but Alexander Payne, for perhaps the first time in his career, was unable to find it.

Conclusion: Downsizing is overstuffed and undercooked.

Recommendation: Skip Downsizing. It’s another disappointing 2017 Matt Damon movie.

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