Downsizing – Film Review

When life’s dreams are just out of reach, when the path to your career is derailed, and when the mortgage application to that desired house is denied, downsizing may be the only option. That’s the dilemma facing the nice Omaha couple, the Safraneks.

In director Alexander Payne’s dead-pan sci-fi comedy/drama, Downsizing, a group of Norwegian scientists may have found a solution to mankind’s ever increasing threat of overpopulation. By shrinking humans to no more than 5 inches, a whole new world of possibilities is suddenly presented. A miniaturized existence in a new community, where a single dollar is now worth a thousand, and where an opulent mansion is yours for the asking, could be the answer.

All you have to do is sign the papers, sell everything you have, and be aware that the downsizing process is irreversible. The more you sell in the big world, the wealthier you’ll be in the smaller. Once you’ve completed some basic requirements and said your farewells to friends and family, many of whom you’ll hope will go through the downsizing process themselves, you’re set to go.

The idea is to eventually transfer the world’s population to a smaller size, something that may take anywhere between 2 to 300 years, but once completed, the world would be full of downsized communities around the globe with room to spare. At least, that’s the way the process is sold. So when Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey Safranek (Kristen Wiig) are refused a mortgage because of current outstanding debt, the idea of downsizing suddenly sounds good. As the poster states, it’s like winning the lottery every day.

But something occurs during the transition stage, resulting with Paul suddenly realizing that the smaller he gets, the bigger his challenges. Trying to find his way among the real-life Lilliputians and discovering where he fits into this new society will prove to be a gargantuan problem.

The concept of Downsizing sounds initially good. As sold to the Safraneks, and to us by some amusing scenes of celebrity endorsements from Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern, simplifying lives by downsizing in a literal sense not only sounds logical, but may well be the perfect answer. Except there’s a problem, and it’s a problem not just for Paul, but for the film.

Whatever ideas director and co-writer Payne had in mind for Paul once reduced in size are never quite clear. There’s a murky path of decision-making ahead for the Omaha occupational therapist who always wanted to be a doctor, but what those issues are and what decisions Paul needs to make are born of half-baked situations. It’s as if director Payne had put a microscope over the problems of the world with the intention of examining what needs to happen in order to survive, except nothing ever feels fully formed. You’re left wondering what it is the director is observing and what we’re supposed to make of it. Events are continually underdeveloped, like a lengthy SNL skit that begins with a good premise but after awhile you’re looking for both the point and a payoff.

Plus, it doesn’t help that Matt Damon’s Paul feels as uninteresting and as as bland as the film’s overall tone. He has no real character. He’s not an observer, and he’s hardly a great decision-maker. He’s just there, trying to make sense of what’s going on and wondering what he’s supposed to do, though the running joke that no one in the new world can ever pronounce his last name correctly is a good way of indicating how he never quite feels accepted, the perpetual outsider who doesn’t fit in. And even though his final will-he-or-won’t-he decision made at a crucial decision-making crossroads indicates hope for his future, you’re still left with a nagging feeling of disconnect and that somewhere along this unfulfilled journey you’ve missed the point. Downsizing is quite peculiar.

MPAA Rating:  NR   Length:  135 Minutes   Overall rating:  5 (out of 10)

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