Director: Alexander Payne
Runtime: 135 minutes
Downsizing has become one of the most intriguing films of 2017. Described as a science-fiction comedy-drama, Downsizing has appealed to the masses because of its absurdist imagery: A-list Hollywood heavyweights shrunk to the size of thumbs.
However, as I made my way into the screening, my main concern lay with whether Downsizing could build on this premise to offer both entertaining and meaningful content.
The result? A likeable screen experience that positioned me to truly consider whether the grass is ever greener on the other side.
Directed by Alexander Payne, Downsizing follows the life of Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), an occupational therapist residing in Omaha with his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig). At his high school reunion, Paul is reacquainted with an old friend, Dave Johnson (Jason Sudeikis), who has undergone the process of downsizing. Downsizing involves the subject being shrunk to a minuscule fraction of their original size. While it is advertised as an environmentally-friendly procedure, as subjects reduce their waste output, Dave insists that those who downsize live like kings, as their ‘big’ people money translates to a considerable fortune in ‘small’ communities.
Due to their financial struggles, Paul and Audrey agree to downsize together, though Audrey later backs out, fearing isolation from her loved ones.
Consequently, Paul is left to live alone in his miniature mansion, eventually moving to a so-so apartment below an ageing Serbian party boy, Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz). Paul meets Dusan’s cleaner, Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese political activist who was downsized against her will. Paul visits the slum where Ngoc and other cultural minorities live, helping her deliver food to the downtrodden.
Paul comes to realise that, regardless of what life throws at you, each day is beautiful and should be cherished. If you spend all your life yearning for a bigger and better existence, you’ll fail to appreciate those around you, which itself makes a difference to the world.
Downsizing‘s strength lies in its humour. The screenplay was co-written by Payne and his frequent collaborator, Jim Taylor, who have worked together on the Academy Award- winning films Sideways (2004) and The Descendants (2011). Downsizing is interspersed with little tidbits of lightness to foreground the fun and silliness that can be enjoyed in life. This includes a delightful sequence of Paul going through the motions of his first hallucinogen.
Likewise, Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography is awe-inspiring. The seamless melding of real life shots and special effects emulates the feeling of being downsized. The Norwegian wilderness, where the first ‘small’ community was established, is magnified so that we can appreciate the magnificence of the natural world.
However, the film was not without weakness. Despite once leading tens of political protests, Ngoc speaks in exceptionally broken English. Her apparent ignorance to the inaccuracy and inappropriateness of her comments drew laughs from those around me. But I don’t particularly enjoy when English as a Second Language speakers are used as punchlines. The humour is derived from their inability to master what is so easy for us.
But, overall, Downsizing was extremely enjoyable. It made me appreciate the need to treat this world better, even if this process is started with smaller, bite-sized pieces.