Saturday 25 August 2018

Movie Review: Downsizing (2017)

A science fiction comedy drama, Downsizing tries to be many things but succeeds at nothing.

In the near future, Norwegian scientists perfect the technique to miniaturize human beings. Several years later, and mostly in the name of consuming less of everything, a thriving people-shrinking industry has developed, with the small people living in lavish custom-built homes within idyllic communities. Occupational therapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) goes through with the procedure, but his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) backs out at the last second.

In his new surroundings Paul gets to know his neighbour, a bootlegger and party animal named Dušan (Christoph Waltz), and his mysterious friend Jooris (Udo Kier). Paul also meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese activist who was miniaturized against her will. She introduces Paul to her world of doing good deeds for other disadvantaged small people. Paul, Dušan, Jooris and Ngoc are eventually summoned to Norway, where a new crisis is brewing.

Director Alexander Payne moves from small and quirky films like Sideways and Nebraska and into a big-budget bloated production, and the result is a catastrophe of almost unimaginable proportions. The special effects are clever, and the juxtaposition of small and large people is seamless. But otherwise Downsizing is a 135 minute fiasco, a film without a purpose, devoid of both comedy and drama, bouncing from one idea to the next, unable to create any narrative thrust or even remote interest in any of its characters.

The film starts off with a focus on "the grass is greener" theme, with Paul gradually captivated by the concept of starting afresh in a new world and at a new size. But once he is downsized Paul becomes a passive observer, and Downsizing stalls and stops. Dušan and Jooris are irksome and ultimately irrelevant, and after burning many minutes being introduced, they also fade away into bland sidekick territory. Ngoc briefly moves to centre stage, and it appears the film may decide to be about the fight for social justice in the newly created small world through the eyes of a wronged activist.

But no. She is also marginalized, and in a stupefyingly bad final chapter, all four are summoned to Norway -- to do what, exactly? Here another new story is suddenly hatched having something to do with the end of the world, and by this point nothing really matters. Payne completely loses control of his movie, which not so much crashes and burns as shrinks away to a mess of nothingness.

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