Downsizing: Film Review
Cast: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Udo Kier
Director: Alexander Payne
With an eye on the insignificant and how small can mak a big difference, director Alexander (Sideways) Payne's Downsizing, starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig (briefly) clearly has lofty ambitions.
Juggling genres from sci-fi to hippy utopia to humanitarian issues, Payne's film is such a mish-mash of anything that it slightly struggles to garner its own identity.
Set in a world where over-population is a real issue and where scientists have discovered there's a way to shrink people and their possessions down and relocate them to gated communities, Payne's film centres on Paul and his wife, the average middle American.
A terribly bland Damon plays Paul, an occupational therapist and middle American, who's stuck in the humdrum way of his life - unable to get into a new home with his wife (Wiig, who's in the film far too briefly), they decide to downsize.
Enticed by the idea of becoming millionaires and having everything they always dreamed of as part of the process (wealth and property are multiplied in value under the irreversible scheme), the pair decide to undergo the process.
However, while Paul completes the procedure, his wife panics and leaves him before beginning - meaning that Paul is destined to find his place alone in LeisureLand, the community set up for smaller people.
Soon discovering the problems of the outside world still exist in Leisureland (crummy jobs, bad neighbours), Paul's dream of Utopia ends up more like a not for U-topia and he seeks his place in the world.
Toying with ideas of insignificance, a microcosm of a society that's less than idyllic, and a satire that has little to no bite, Downsizing aims for profundity but misses with a distinct thud.
It's helped little by Damon playing as bland as the script demands, time jumps that are less than crucial and add little to the drama.
Payne seems lost to know what to do with the little people, even throwing in some apparently timely talk of little people's rights - all the elements are in place in Downsizing, but frustratingly, the jigsaw is so messily assembled, it feels too much of a jumble to care about.
There's also the disturbing edges of Paul the white man American saviour in parts of the film, as the sadsack Damon tackles European attitudes, and Payne rolls out a thinly veiled Asian stereotype in Thai dissident and one-legged cleaner Ngoc Lan Tran, played by Hong Chau.
It's uncomfortable in the extreme and while the excuse script calls for it may be generous at best, it certainly doesn't sit right as the back half of the film meanders to a Lilluptian conclusion.
Ultimately, the fact that Downsizing has had its dramatic teeth shrunk down narratively does it no favours.
There's a kernel of a great idea here, and a doomsday-preppers style story which could have been smartly and cleverly executed. But the clever premise of Downsizing is squandered in an indulgent script and story which shrinks and shrivels as much as its titular characters.
The only way to perhaps enjoy Downsizing is to massively shrink any expectations you have before going in.